Think Twice Before Watching Videos of Police Brutality

By Nadia Liu

Public Relations

In recent years, more instances of police brutality caught on tape surface and gone viral, whether the source is a bystander’s phone or a bodycam. Most recently, social media blew up after the release of the video of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols. If you go to LGHS, you likely received an email from our superintendent warning you about its triggering nature. Although videos of police brutality can provide accountability and spread awareness, they can also be traumatizing and sensationalize Black deaths; I urge you to think twice before consuming and sharing these videos.

For people of color, frequent exposure to videos of police brutality can have long-term mental health effects when combined with lived experiences of racism, according to many studies. Monnica Williams, the director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, explains that graphic videos can create severe psychological problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress syndrome: “It can lead to depression, substance abuse and, in some cases, psychosis…it can contribute to health problems that are already common among African-Americans such as high blood pressure.” For many in our community that are not people of color, the footage still brings harm, as it is extremely graphic, desensitizing and traumatizing viewers. Educating yourself and others on police brutality helps bring awareness to the systemic racism that causes it, but consuming graphic videos of Black deaths will only cause distress and psychological problems.

Sharing videos of police brutality can also sensationalize Black deaths and dehumanize victims. April Reign, former attorney turned activist, says a sense of humanity is not typically given to victims of color, especially Black Americans: “It is a dehumanization of Black people, and we don’t see that with any other race. It’s ingrained in us from our history.” Furthermore, the graphic footage can overshadow the life and humanity of the victims. When people share videos of brutality against people of color, the central narrative takes the shape of their abuses, not their life or achievements. 

Allissa V. Richardson, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, explains, “America no longer needs visual proof that its citizens continue to be brutalized and killed. Instead it needs fuller pictures of the victims as human beings.” Some say that these videos can illustrate the need for police reform, but Ja’han Jones, a columnist for MSNBC, counters this idea: “There’s been a school of thought that says exposing the public — particularly, the white public — to the grotesqueness of these acts will jar people from their willful ignorance of anti-Black police violence. But in this scenario, Black justice hinges entirely on white sympathy. And it leads you to the situation we seem to be in now, with repeated incidents of recorded police violence terrorizing Black people, while casting doubt on whether this sympathy will ever rise to a level needed to spur lasting change.” 

Footage of police brutality can provide proof and accountability, but serves best as a legal tool. Consuming and sharing this footage can not only be traumatizing and triggering, but also contribute to dehumanizing and sensationalizing the victims and their deaths. Instead, I urge you to share information without violent footage, links to donate to racial justice organizations, photographs that honor the victim’s life, and proactive ways your community can address the root issues like upcoming city council meetings or petitions.

(Sources: The Atlantic, MSNBC, PBS, Insider)

Categories: Opinion

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