Black Deaths, Police Brutality, Caught on Video: No Justice, Only Sequels
Black Deaths, Police Brutality, Caught on Video: No Justice, Only Sequels
By Sarah Kendzior /

In 1991, when video was released of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers, Alton Sterling of Louisiana was 12 years old. Philando Castile of Minnesota was seven.

The King video was supposed to provide irrefutable evidence of what black Los Angeles residents had been describing for decades: systematic, racist police brutality. Now, many assumed, the violence black Americans had long endured from police would not be denied. Now, finally, officers would have to face legal repercussions.

But instead, the officers who abused Mr. King walked free. And today, videos of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile being killed by police officers circulate online, joining videos of police officers killing Laquan McDonald of Chicago, Walter Scott of North Carolina, and Eric Garner of New York, among others.

The legacy of the Rodney King video was not justice, but sequels.

Mr. Sterling died at 37. Mr. Castile died days before his 33rd birthday. They left behind children, parents, and friends. They were men who loved and were loved. Today their loved ones, in the midst of grief, are tasked with not only proving these men’s innocence, but vouching for their basic humanity. Advocates of Sterling and Castile will fight to put the officers who killed Sterling and Castile on trial, knowing Sterling and Castile were on trial their whole lives in the court of public opinion. Their very existence as black men is considered, in the eyes of many Americans, evidence of their guilt.

Police officials and media will publicize criminal records – as they already have for Mr. Sterling – to try to justify a killing that had nothing to do with his previous low-level offences. They will assassinate Mr. Castile’s character, as they consistently assassinate the character of even the youngest African-Americans – children like 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed by a police officer while playing in a park.

They will do anything to make people turn away from the videos, the proof, the pain.

They know that no documentation will bring justice if the audience is willfully blind – seeing only what they want to see. What many want to see is justification for black death.

Official statements on the killings of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile cloak the killings in passive voice and euphemisms. “During the stop, shots were fired,” said a statement from Minnesota police on Mr. Castile. Translation: “Our officer shot a black man to death at a routine traffic stop.” Similarly, in a statement expressing sympathy to the Sterling family, Hillary Clinton declared his killing a “police-involved incident,” a phrase which could as easily describe a traffic ticket.

None of these cases are “police-involved incidents.” They are killings of black men by police who fired fatal shots – and in the case of Mr. Castile, handcuffing his sobbing girlfriend, who had taped the killing, as if she, too, were suspect, while her four-year-old daughter tried to comfort her.

Video is supposed to be an antidote to these manipulative turns of phrase. Video shows the brutality of the police, the helplessness of their victims, and the pain of the witnesses. It is all clearly recorded, obvious to anyone with a trace of conscience or compassion. But as the case of Rodney King showed 25 years ago, there is no compassion for those deemed inherently undeserving of rights or even life. Justice comes from the willingness not to merely observe, but to acknowledge abuse, and to fight on behalf of the abused. When the abused are black, and the abuser holds the authority of law, compassion erodes into complicity.

There will be calls to black Americans to stay calm and conceal their rage at the slaughter. But the real question is why white America’s reaction is not also rage and grief. Anger is not the same as hostility or violence. Anger on behalf of others is a form of compassion. One should ask not why black Americans are angry, but why so many non-black Americans remain unmoved.

Some Americans will deny the evidence in the videos out of willful blindness. Others will not see the details of the videos clearly through the tears in their eyes. Theirs is the perspective that should be prioritized.

Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis-based commentator who writes about race, politics, and the economy.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 22,153 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 17,859 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 11,944 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 10,731 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 7,034 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 6,421 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 5,340 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 4,671 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 4,464 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
Our Obsession With 'Good Immigrants' Breeds Intolerance
2 min · 2,253 views today · Society sets the bar so high to become a 'good immigrant', argues writer Nikesh Shukla, that normal immigrants are demonised. He says non-Brits in the public eye have a simple...
My Cuba - An Intimate Look at the Pleasures and Struggles of 6 Different People's Cuba
150 min · 1,930 views today · Cuba - diverse, vibrant and complex - is undergoing immense change. But what does it mean to be Cuban in this time of change? Six people. Six films. From the comedy and ballet...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,766 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 1,424 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
Bird Watching on Lesvos Island - A Poetic Call to Stand With Refugees
3 min · 1,139 views today · Born in Darfur, Sudan and raised in Philadelphia, Emi Mahmoud is the 2015 World Poetry Slam Champion and the Women of the World co-Champion of 2016. From a young age Emi...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 1,074 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 858 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
The Important Difference Between Love and Being Loved
2 min · 810 views today · We talk of love as if it were just one thing: in fact, it’s two very different moves, Loving and Being Loved. You start to grow up when you stop focusing on the latter and get...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 692 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Untold History of Palestine & Israel
22 min · 624 views today · Previewing Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s...
Alliance of 600,000 British Doctors Calls for 'Imperative' Coal Phase-Out
Nadia Prupis · 582 views today · Doing so would constitute 'double win for tackling the twin health threats of air pollution and climate change,' report states
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Black Deaths, Police Brutality, Caught on Video: No Justice, Only Sequels