Read: Korryn Gaines and the conflicts between Black women and the police
When there is video of violence against a Black person, their abuse or their killing—and not their life—often becomes the central narrative. This past May, in the case of George Floyd, I watched with the rest of the world as Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, suffocating and killing him. After viewing the video, I became appalled by its ubiquity. Many news channels and websites repeatedly aired or embedded it in its entirety. Very few outlets blurred his face. There was scant mention of who Floyd was as a person.
With Blake, this cycle played out again with excruciating certainty. I watched as Twitter users posted unedited versions of his shooting on the site. A slew of tweets from distraught Black people followed, chiding those who caused the video to trend on the platform. Television news outlets picked up the video, further amplifying its traumatic effects. By Monday morning, tweets from Black people in mourning declared that they could not—and would not—watch the video.
One of the Black Lives Matter movement’s crowning achievements is that it has pushed for journalists and media consumers to go beyond the hashtags, to see Black people in all of their complexity amid systemic, and often deadly, racism. America no longer needs visual proof that its citizens continue to be brutalized and killed. Instead it needs fuller pictures of the victims as human beings. As a journalist and journalism professor, I have urged fellow reporters to stop looping images of Black people’s deaths with the casual air of a sports highlight: Handle the footage with care. Avoid showing the exact moment of death. And retire these videos as quickly as possible, to show respect for the dead and to help shield families from stumbling upon the devastating footage online.
Read: The headlines that are covering up police violence
Widening the news coverage beyond the videos also would help undo centuries of biased reporting, which has typically cast Black people as aggressors and the police as wranglers of the unruly. A central piece of Blake’s narrative, for instance, has to do with the environment in which he lived, because none of these incidents of police brutality occurs in a vacuum. Many American cities have long legacies of systemic racism, which cause Black people to come into deadly contact with their local police more often than any other ethnic group. The towns that neighbor Blake’s Kenosha community—Milwaukee and Racine—were rated the No. 1 and No. 2 worst places to live for African Americans in 2019; up from the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in 2018. This matters. Black Americans in those two cities make half the median income of white residents. They are also 12 times more likely to be put in prison than their white counterparts, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. Focusing on facts such as these would offer a look into the broader culture of policing in Blake’s area, spotlighting the interlocking forces of disparity, right alongside the victim.