07 May Jon Cartu Announces: Ahmaud Arbery killing reignites debate over sharing graphic…
The outrage surrounding the viral video of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery being shot just outside Brunswick, Georgia, is what prompted prosecutors to request a grand jury to consider charges, according to many social justice activists.
The footage released this week shows Arbery jogging down a narrow two-lane road. A white law enforcement officer and his son, whose truck is stopped nearby, shoot Arbery within seconds of confronting him.
“I am trembling with anger over what I just witnessed,” wrote the activist Shaun King, who first posted the video on Twitter on Tuesday. He described the footage, filmed by an anonymous witness, as “one of the worst things I’ve seen in my entire life”.
Beyond the calls for justice, however, the manner by which King released the footage to the public has prompted a backlash. Although he prefaced the release of the video with a separate tweet, King drew immediate anger for sharing the graphic depiction of Arbery’s death without an explicit warning of its contents.
Following King’s tweet, users shared their mental and psychological anguish, with some pleading with others not to share the footage. In a statement to the Guardian, King said he “loathes”, the videos, calling them “damaging to anyone who sees them”.
“What I also know is that we only got movement in the Ahmaud Arbery case when I shared it,” he added.
It is the latest such video to go viral in the US. In recent years, public anger following the deaths of Walter Scott in South Carolina in 2015, Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016 and others has ignited debates over whether such graphic footage should be released.
Activists have often debated balancing the pursuit of justice for the victim with preventing additional distress to the public, or undermining a victim’s dignity.
“We know what happened,” tweeted the cultural critic April Reign. “Those who need video evidence to believe what we know aren’t going to be swayed by a video.”
Following the death of Alton Sterling in 2016, Reign vowed in a Washington Post column not to share viral imagery, calling it “a sick sort of voyeurism”.
“In the same way that we do not show the lethal executions of prisoners, one wonders how the media justifies depicting the death of non-imprisoned citizens at the hands of the same system,” she wrote.
Many responded in support, expressing their own shock or disappointment at being presented with the footage online, often via auto-play.
“Media attention can be created without causing traumatic stress to millions of people who see the video,” one user replied. “Seeing someone murdered is something that shouldn’t be made normal to see.”
Others agreed with King, including attorneys representing Arbery’s family. They noted that Arbery was killed in February and, had it not been for the video’s jarring release, prosecutors may not have pursued a grand jury.
The more than two-month delay fuelled further outrage over the initial reluctance of prosecutors to file charges against Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis.
“It’s graphic, but must be shared,” wrote Benjamin Crump, attorney for Arbery’s father Marcus. “As we seek justice in this modern-day lynching, everyone must know the truth!”
Arbery’s family only learned of the video’s release along with the public. Crump later thanked the former vice-president Joe Biden, who tweeted that it was “clear” that “Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood”.
Others noted that people could decide not to watch the video.
When footage of a graphic killing goes viral, people can be exposed to it involuntarily as online users post commentary and news updates that pops up in timelines and news feeds.
For some, the bombardment can merely be a nuisance. But research suggests that, for many people of color, frequent exposure to “clips on the nightly news featuring unarmed African Americans being killed on the street, in a holding cell, or even in a church” can have long-term mental health effects.
According to Monnica Williams, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, social media and viral videos can worsen trauma and stress.
“There’s a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can’t trust the people who’ve been put in charge to keep you safe,” she said following Sterling’s death. “Instead, you see them killing people who look like you”.
Williams noted that graphic videos can prompt “vicarious trauma” that exacerbates the lived experiences of racism, and effects can even be reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Combined with the everyday instances of racism, like micro-aggressions and discrimination, that contributes to a sense of alienation and isolation. It’s race-based trauma,” she said.
In a 2018 report published in the Lancet, researchers determined that when police officers in the US kill unarmed black people, it damages the mental health of black Americans living in the same states.
The study, which analyzed mental health survey data against a database of police shootings to survey respondents, suggested the trauma could result in 55 million more poor mental health days every year among black Americans.
“It’s really about all the kinds of insidious ways that structural racism can make people sick,” Atheendar S Venkataramani, a researcher, told the New York Times.
As in the cases of Arbery, Castile, and others, proponents of widely sharing video note that the footage can often spur action in the justice system, where it might not otherwise had been taken.
“We’ve seen this movie before. The prosecutors that were against arrests in the first place are only going to the Grand Jury now because they have been outed & forced to do so,” the author Dr Avis Jones-Deweever wrote on Twitter.
“They will now intentionally undermine the process so as to result in no charges,” she added.”
Criminal charges, and subsequent convictions, for active and retired law enforcement are rare.