PHILIP GOUREVITCH wrote a wonderful, thought provoking piece for the New Yorker yesterday called, “Should You Watch the Video?” referring to the murder of Walter Scott by a police officer in South Carolina that was caught on a bystanders camera and posted to pretty much every possible news site you can imagine yesterday.
I’ll start by saying, I did not watch the video. I have seen strangers in the moments after their death before. Three times last year I saw the bodies of people laying in the road after fatal accidents. I hadn’t seen three bodies in my life and yet I witnessed these just a few weeks apart. The first one I will always remember.
An exchange student on a bicycle was hit by a cement truck down the road from my house. His body lay in the road, face up. Both his shoes were off and he wore bold black and white striped socks. The symbolism of the socks was not lost to me. They were physical manifestations of the bold brightness of youth and also the now you’re here, now you’re not reality of his death. What I thought about in that moment was how unfair it was that I was witness to this tragedy when the people who loved him most had surely not even been notified yet. How could I, a stranger with no personal affection for him or even knowledge of him, participate in the most important event of his entire life…the end of it?
This memory resurfaced when I was presented with the Walter Scott video yesterday. I feel we need reform in both our police force and in our general society so we can eradicate (or at least mitigate) biases that lead to these types of senseless deaths. The thing is, I don’t necessarily believe that withholding the video would have been right in this case. Justice may still be served without the public’s access to the video, but the visceral imagery could potentially act as a catalyst for sweeping change. The Walter Scott video may be just what we need to get cameras on every officer and more importantly, to influence radical self-realization. The latter is needed to understand prejudice and fear. Ask a 9 year old why he wants to be a police officer and he’ll tell you he wants to help people. What happens between 9 and 40? What makes a man with power and authority shoot another innocent, unarmed man in cold blood? I believe it is a culture based on social and economic division, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.
Publishing someone’s death is no small thing. It takes great thought and consideration for the circumstances. Gourevitch poses the question, “What if it were footage of a child being run over by a car? Or footage of the execution of a convict sentenced to death by lethal injection?” Personally, I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer. A decision has to be calculated based on its contribution to the betterment of all. Unfortunately, journalists are not organized in a way that they can come to a democratic decision these things. They probably never will be. Ultimately it is up to us to watch or not to watch. ∞
I gave some thought to posting the video here for those who would like to see it. Since I don’t know what the family of Walter Scott would want, I’ve decided not to post the video. I try to practice Ahimsa (the practice of non-violence) and I’m not yet certain if this is harmful. It’s all over the web so if you want to see it, it’s readily available.
Did you watch the Walter Scott video? Why or why not? Share in the comments.