How Video Evidence of Police Brutality Both Protects and Hurts Black People

The country was transfixed. There was video evidence of a man being brutally beaten by 4 LAPD officers.  The man was Rodney King, who was in high speed car chase with police officers, while detaining him officers beat and kicked him causing skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage. The assault was caught on camera by a bystander, while multiple cops stood by and watched giving commentary. The officers were charged with excessive force, and acquitted by a jury of their peers a year later. 

            The nation was stunned. How could this happen? The video so clearly showed that these officers used excessive force, and we were all witnesses. It has been a little over 30 years since the Rodney King assault and it’s amazing how nothing has changed and in some ways, everything has changed. The videos we now watch of police brutality are not only shot by innocent bystanders, hoping to bring justice to the victims, but by the police officers themselves. 

A little over 80% of large police forces in America use body cams and police officers are supposed to have them on while they are policing the community. It’s meant to provide accountability and a sense of safety for the citizens in case something goes wrong. But if there was video evidence of Rodney’s King’s assault and there was no justice served then why would it make a difference now? All these videos prove is that America has a sordid fascination with watching Black people be tortured and die. 

During Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, it’s estimated that around 3,450 Black people in this country were lynched. Black people could be lynched for a myriad of reasons such as perceived disrespect by a white person, to a white woman falsely accusing a Black man of rape. But at the heart of this gruesome murders was the belief that Black people were inferior to white people and should be kept in their place. Lynching’s became a sort of spectacle. They would be advertised and whole towns would gather and pose with the mutilated corpse of a Black person. White people would buy postcards and share with their loved ones in other cities to showcase what they were doing with their lives. America loves to watch Black people suffer. So, is it any surprise that when a Black person is assaulted or abused by the police that we’re now grateful for the body cam footage or the dashboard footage? We could never believe the Black person or their family if we can’t see it with our own eyes. Even if they have the bruises, and the dead body to prove it. 

As I’ve had to watch and bear witness to another Black body being murdered by the police, I started to wonder what does this do to my own body? To see your people being murdered in the streets repeatedly. First you are sad. As the world marched against the murder of George Floyd, I found myself crying nonstop. Seeing the video, and hearing him plead for his life was a pain no one should ever have to witness. Second, you become angry. With everyone and everything. As you walk around feeling as though your world is on fire, you wonder how people can smile and act like they don’t see the smoke? But then you realize that not everyone is affected the same way, because not everyone lives the life of a Black person. Third, you find yourself on edge. Nervous that at any moment, you could be next. You could be the next hashtag and it would be your family and friends left to fight to protect your name and reputation. And if it’s not you, then it will become someone that you love.

These videos and instances of police brutality against Black people are modern day lynchings. They create the same level of fear, and anxiety as a burnt corpse did swinging from a tree. They are meant to remind Black people of our place. But I would like to say that my ancestors did not fight and survive so that I could live my life in fear. It is not my job to provide entertainment at my own expense to appease white people.  If we want to hold police accountable for their actions, it does not start with body cam footage. It starts with dismantling our police system in this country, and asking ourselves the hard questions about what police can do and should not be able to do. Asking why we have the highest rate of gun violence in the world? Why are Black people more likely to be stopped by the police, and why are police the biggest threat to the livelihood of young Black males in this country? We need to stop torturing Black people with live footage of our own genocide.   

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