Before you ask, no, I have not watched that video.
I’m never going to.
I have spent the last week ducking any social media post or television broadcast that even hints that it’s going to show the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols, an unarmed man whose beating death by Memphis police has sparked yet another passionate round of shock and horror that these things keep happening.
I don’t know why you’re shocked. Because they keep happening.
Here’s what I know without seeing this video — this snuff film, this extinguishing of a human life that sent people nationwide out into the streets in protest, including here in Baltimore. I know the footage has resulted in various charges and penalties for the officers and paramedics involved in this man’s death, either because they reportedly beat him to death or didn’t help him. I know that it captures the moment that a 29-year-old father, FedEx worker and photographer was taken out of this world while begging for his mother.
I do not need to see that. I understand why other people feel they do ― that they have a duty to — because others will deny that it happened the way it seems to have happened, and they want to be able to prove them wrong. But I do not think that anyone has an obligation to experience viewing such horrors. Just the thought of it haunts me, and I am so scared that if I watch, in my terror and weariness I will fall asleep to escape its truths, only to replace Nichols’s screams with the voice of my son. Calling for me.
The people that must watch this savagery are those who will decide the guilt and punishment for those responsible, like police, prosecutors, a judge and jury. I am praying and wishing for strength and peace for them, because to do their jobs, they must watch it closely, unflinching. They cannot turn away.
But I can. And I won’t watch it.
If it seems you have heard me say this before, you have, sort of. I wrote last fall about my decision to not watch “Till,” the award-winning film about the vicious slaying of teenaged Emmett Till and his mother Mamie’s quest for justice in the midst of her debilitating grief.
I have a Black son, like Mamie did, and I knew the movie would traumatize, not entertain me. I support the filmmakers and Mamie’s mission to make sure everyone saw the truth of bigotry and hate wrought bloody and wretched on her baby’s lifeless face. It was an important story to retell for those who still need a movie to convince themselves that this was real. Is real.
But the very thought of sitting through “Till” felt claustrophobic. Christa C. Gilliam, chairperson of the department of social work at Coppin State University, told me at the time that “if you experience racial trauma by seeing it, it’s not our responsibility to take one for the team. There are some movies I’m never going to see, but I invite other people to see them.”
I would like to believe that everyone who is watching the video of Nichols is doing so because they need to bear witness to hatred so they can tell people who deny this type of brutality exists that they are wrong. But sadly, I don’t think that’s true.
I think there are people who enjoy pain, and particularly Black pain — the descendants of the evil souls who gathered to watch lynchings. It’s about power, about purposeful disregard of what they consider inferior lives. It gives me no pleasure to believe that. But I do.
If you decide to watch it, I hope that you are supported and have people in your life who will help you process your shock, anger and sadness. There are people on social media willing to discuss it with you and help you through the trauma. There is also a guide someone from Memphis posted with details on how to disable automatic video on various platforms so you aren’t randomly ambushed by its contents.
For me, just knowing the video exists and the ugliness it portrays is real is enough. I hope it will be used to find justice for this man who should still be alive, but I don’t believe it’s going to stop what’s happening. We saw the videos of what happened to George Floyd, to Ahmaud Arbery. We bore witness to those crimes, and while video footage helped convict those responsible, it didn’t stop more deaths.
It didn’t stop what happened to Tyre Nichols. I honestly don’t know what will, other than sweeping police reform. But you can’t reform the barbarism that allows humans to do this to each other. That’s in some of us. And I don’t know how to root that out.
I do know that having that video in my head won’t stop these things from happening. It’ll just remind me of how often they do.
So I won’t watch it.