DON’T WATCH THE VIDEO.
Many people are speaking out about NOT watching the video of Tyre Nichols being beaten by the Memphis police.
In an Op-Ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle titled “ Why you absolutely should not watch the Tyre Nichols Police killing video,” journalist Julie Scelfo writes:
“The artist Questlove, responding to the release of the Nichols video, posted a warning message to his Instagram followers: “Do NOT Watch It. Do NOT WATCH IT!!!!!” he wrote. “For The Love Of God. Torture P*rn Is Not Going To Serve Your Soul.”
In yesterday’s Chronicle, there was a letter to the editor from Monika Fabijanska, who read Scelfo’s warning too late:
“As a curator, I felt obliged to watch it. And yet, I simply wish I could unwatch it… I come from a country with a horrible history, and I have been exposed to themes and expressions of violence for a long time. I’ve been working for a year with Ukrainians and felt the psychological impact of the war myself, and yet I wish I didn’t watch Nichols’ beating. This particular footage can do a lot of harm to the entire society; it violates us in a whole different way than things we’ve seen before.”
So apparently, there seems to be something particularly horrible about the Nichols video that crosses some line.
But, despite being traumatized, Fabijanska goes on:
“And yet, I cannot support the idea of censoring it. We want transparency, and we got it. Only successful reforms could justify my carrying this senseless death in my eyes forever.”
So here’s our dilemma: We need transparency in order to correct great injustices. I think we can all agree that it is a positive thing that we have video so that we know how Tyre Nichols died. However, watching that video traumatizes us in a harmful way.
Scelfo feels there is a way to watch such a video without being traumatized:
“There is a time and a place for viewing videos of human rights violations: Settings like a museum or classroom where the content can be viewed with advance warning and in community with others, help separate the experience of the encounter from ordinary life, and help us process and make sense of it.”
I don’t agree with Scelfo’s belief that such a “safe” context could mitigate the trauma of seeing those images. I think she, and Questlove, have got it right when they clearly state:
“Don’t watch the video!”
And I would go even further:
“Don’t watch any violent videos. You don’t need those images in your head!”
Yes, some people in the police department and city government need to watch the video of Tyre Nichols’ fatal beating by the police. People on juries for the trials of the police officers might have to see the video many times.
For me, it’s enough that I know the circumstances of Nichols’ death, that I know video exists of the beating. That’s enough!
Personally, I have no tolerance for seeing violence. I didn’t watch the Nichols video. I didn’t watch the George Floyd video. When I was doing errands on 24th Street and heard there had been a terrible car crash, I fled in the opposite direction. I’ve been known to sit on the floor of the lobby in the movie theater, waiting for a violent movie to be over, so I can get a ride home from whoever I came with. I will do whatever I can to avoid violent images.
I did not escape one terrible still image that I will “carry in my eyes forever,” as Fabijanska so eloquently puts it. It was a photo on the front page of the New York Times the day after 9/11. I won’t describe it because I don’t want to inflict it on anyone. There was a real controversy at the time over whether the Times should have published the photo at all, let alone on the front page. All I can say is, I wish I could “unsee” that image.
I don’t think I’m a person who avoids trying to understand the terrible things that happen in this world. I spent five years immersed in reading about the Holocaust, in order to write a play about the subject. I still often read about the Holocaust. Just two weeks ago, I read a woman’s very graphic account of violence she had witnessed. At the time I read it, I wished that I could “unread” her descriptions. Now, two weeks later, I only clearly remember being upset. I cannot remember exactly what the woman described. But 22 years after I saw that photo on the NY Times front page, I can remember it clearly. I feel it permanently and vibrantly residing inside my skull.
One picture is worth a thousand words. Everyone has heard that old saying. For me, it’s true. That 9/11 photo is a thousand times more permanent in my memory than any description of violence that I’ve read.
If watching the police beat Nichols is a thousand times more powerful than reading about it, you could say that’s a good thing. Then people will be a thousand times more empowered to take action to prevent future police violence. But Questlove and the Fabijanska didn’t speak of being empowered. They felt injured by watching the video.
According to the NY Times article, children are deeply affected by media violence:
“Following the Sept. 11 attack, researchers documented how young children had developed acute stress reactions and PTSD from cumulative exposure to media coverage of the event, even though they didn’t personally know any victims.”
Media exposure to the terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon similarly precipitated PTSD symptoms in children and adolescents with those who already suffered from various stressors most likely to be affected.
In short, there is a cumulative, traumatic effect of our current media landscape, and protecting mental health requires that we make careful distinctions about what type of media is appropriate to consume in various settings, by specific audiences.
We are all now so aware of the terrible things happening all over the world. Of course, it is good that we understand that injustice is widespread and deep. How do we embrace this truth without being overwhelmed by it? The discussion about the Nichols video is an important opening into this very important question.
Subscribe to Terry’s Blog.