The horrifying footage of the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week has once again sent shock waves through our country. There he is, pinned to the ground with two police officers on top of him, when suddenly you hear, “He has a gun!” Then piercing gunshots ring out, leaving the 37-year-old black man dead.
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It’s horrifying. It’s rage-inducing. While we don’t have all the details, what we see is almost too painful to watch, another black man appearing to die at the hand of police. The question is, should we be watching it?
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Yes, screams the rage, the part of us that knows it’s vital that the world sees what’s happening on our streets. Yes, screams the part that knows we have a terrifying problem in this country between police and minorities. Yes, when just last year we saw the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Yes, when studies show that in the U.S., black people are twice as likely to be unarmed when shot and killed by police as white people are. Yes, we need to see every painful moment to raise awareness, to not ignore what’s happening so as to not let it happen again.
But then there’s the nagging “no” there as well as we feel the sadness and the deep, deep sorrow we have for this man’s family, for his friends and those who loved him. For those whose heartfelt sadness is now the topic of every news show, the rallying cry for those with a cause. Sterling was the father of five children. These five children are grieving the loss of their father as the world watches him die over and over. And no matter how important it is to raise awareness and hold police accountable, there’s just something about it that feels wrong in these situations.
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They’re not the first family to have to watch their loved one’s final moments played out on video for the world to see either. From Sandra Bland, who was found in a Texas jail cell under suspicious circumstances, to Antonio Perkins, who was shot and killed while broadcasting on Facebook Live, the world now gawks at some of the most painful moments of people’s lives.
With video of almost any move a person makes just a cellphone away, it’s impossible to think we won’t continue to see videos of horrifying incidents light the internet on fire. And in some cases that’s a good thing. However, while we watch them, share them and comment on them, the least we can do is to do so with respect and remembering first and foremost those grieving the person we’re all watching die.
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