Courtney Baker in Avidly:
The images and videos of Castile’s and Sterling’s deaths are coming fast and furious. They find us in our homes, in our offices, at the supermarket—anywhere we have access to the internet. Those of us who live daily with the knowledge and fear that we and our kin are hated and hunted, that we are not safe and that the police are often the cause of that sense of insecurity, are dealing with the trauma and indignity of the visual and video reminders of our own precarious lives. We are enraged, we are disgusted, we are mourning, and we are terrorized by the uncritically circulated spectacles of our destruction. Being forcibly confronted with auto-played videos online and on televised news broadcasts and with, as one print outlet offered, a full-color, front-page photograph of a Black man murdered by those, the police, who insist they are our best hope for peace and safety and who will most likely not be found at fault for their actions by a court of law is the twenty-first century equivalent of having to endure the lynched body’s circulation through town by members of the lynch mob (as happened to teenager Jesse Washington’s corpse in Waco, Texas in 1916). As I noted above, we have seen these images of Black destruction before when they were put into service for a Black liberationist cause. However, in those instances, the harrowing images were contextualized and controlled by pro-Black advocates like the anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. In its antilynching circular, the NAACP printed an explicit photograph of a lynching and used the caption to further manipulate the image’s reception. The caption instructed readers quite clearly. “Do not look at the Negro,” it read, “His earthly problems are ended. Instead, look at the seven WHITE children who gaze at this gruesome spectacle.” Both Wells and the NAACP reproduced images of the “gruesome spectacle,” but their doing so in the Black press, in an explicitly antilynching context, counteracted the then-more frequent and popular circulation networks for these images which were expected to be kept in and controlled by white hands.
The videos and photographs of Castile and Sterling, like the videos and photographs of Garner, Brown, Scott, and Bland are not being kept and controlled by Black hands or even by institutions invested in the protection and defense of Black bodies. The contexts of care and of justice are absent and at times anathema to the mass media entities that carelessly circulate these images for titillation or profit or some bad faith interpretation of the exposé. As long as these images and videos are published alongside cries that blue lives matter and queries about black-on-black crime and recitations of the victims’ irrelevant criminal histories, they have no place in the public sphere. And they certainly have no place on my screen.