When Philando Castile was shot to death on Wednesday, he was in his car, restrained by a seatbelt. When Alton Sterling was shot to death early Tuesday morning, he was in the parking lot of the convenience store where he sold CDs, pinned to the ground.
This is what two amateur videos—filmed by trained bystanders or courageous loved ones—appear to reveal. Twice this week, Americans have found themselves reduced to outrage and mute grief by the killing of a black man by a local police officer. It happened on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday—just as it also occurred last December, and last August, and last July, and last April, and last January, except the “man” in that final instance was a 12-year-old boy. Expand the count to include black women and Hispanic men and the number of incidents nearly doubles.
These are not the only Americans who were killed by cops last year. More than 1,000 people are killed by police officers every year in the United States, according to The Washington Post and The Guardian. And as my colleague Vann Newkirk II writes, a black American will be killed by an officer every two days.
What makes these deaths different—what makes them subjects of public grief, warranting a Facebook post from the president—is that they were filmed. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile became news not because of the uniqueness of what happened to them, but because a camera documented their suffering and death. Journalists, lawmakers, and the public see the footage, and they believe.