1. Opinion

Why are we sharing a video of a black man being killed?

We shouldn’t “consume black death like it’s a meme on TikTok,” one commentator says.

Akilah Hughes recently delivered a thought-provoking commentary about sharing the video of George Floyd’s death, the African American man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. What follows is her take, word-for-word, from an episode of What a Day, a podcast she co-hosts on Crooked Media.

Akilah Hughes, writer, comedian and co-host of the podcast What a Day.
Akilah Hughes, writer, comedian and co-host of the podcast What a Day. [ Penguin Random House ]

The episode was recorded before the Minneapolis officers were charged in connection with the killing. The excerpt picks up after Hughes talked about how a wealthy white woman walking her dog wrongly called the police on a 57-year-old black Harvard graduate and Audubon Society member who was bird watching in New York’s Central Park.

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The video of George Floyd’s murder was haphazardly retweeted into the feeds of black people everywhere to say “look at this horrible thing a police officer did to a black person.” But the voyeuristic nature of sharing black human beings murdered like it’s just a normal thing on a Tuesday didn’t bring that guy back. It didn’t stop racism.

In fact racism didn’t end when we all saw Mike Brown laying in the street. Or when the Ahmaud Arbery video went viral. Or when Eric Garner was choked to death over a few cigarettes. Or Walter Scott getting shot to death. Did racism end when Danny Ray Thomas was shot on video by police? Did Stephon Clark’s viral murder change the way white people react to black people just living their lives? When Keith Scott was shot to death did white people even have a conversation about a culture that produces this kind of incessant bias and violence? Did Philando Castile’s murder video end racism? Did the photo of Emmett Till in a casket stop racism? Stop murder? How bout Alton Sterling? Did it force all police departments to rebuild from scratch, weeding out the “bad apples” that have spoiled the whole goddamn bunch? Did it make white people evaluate themselves for even half a second?

Are there people on earth who are unaware that black people fear the police because the police disproportionately kill black people? Do we need videos to prove it? And do the videos ever result in justice?

I mean, we’ve had smartphones that shoot video since, what, 2005? We know this happens. Awareness isn’t the point. We don’t share white death like this. When Steve Irwin died we didn’t share the video of the stingray millions of times online to “raise awareness.” They took down the ISIS beheading of a white man on YouTube. How many white men have you watched die in (high definition) video? Can you name five? I bet you can’t name 10.

The video footage is shorthand for desensitization. Ask yourself why you’re even comfortable looking at a video of someone being murdered. Then ask why you’d share it with everyone you know. If it was a dog you wouldn’t. So what is the reasoning? For what reason should we share footage of a person being murdered?

I’m traumatized. Black people are traumatized. Four police officers got fired. They didn’t get murdered. They will hopefully be charged with murder, but they probably won’t. But that isn’t justice and it doesn’t address a system that puts a gun and a badge in the hands of a person who could hear someone pleading for their life and not move.

When I say “don’t look away” I don’t mean consume black death like it’s a meme on TikTok. I mean look in the mirror. Look at your family. Look at the community you live in. Look at your friend group. Look at the wealthy white woman with the rescue dog in the goddamn park. And don’t look away. Because we know what the problem is. No one is unclear on what the problem is.

So where is the justice?

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Akilah Hughes is a writer, comedian, podcast host and YouTuber, recently residing in Los Angeles. Last year, Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin Random House) published a collection of her personal essays titled “Obviously: Stories from my Timeline”.

Comedian Akilah Hughes and reporter Gideon Resnick, the hosts of the What a Day podcast.
Comedian Akilah Hughes and reporter Gideon Resnick, the hosts of the What a Day podcast. [ Crooked Media ]

This excerpt was printed with permission from Crooked Media and the What a Day podcast. Click here to listen to the entire podcast and find other episodes.