chin

A rally in Stonewall, Mississippi calling for the indictment of Officer Kevin Herrington on charges of murder of Jonathan Saunders

The last thing I consumed on the internet yesterday was a story Another Reason To Question Whether Black Lives Matter In Mississippi by Alan Chin about the fatal shooting of a black man by a cop in rural Mississippi. His name was Jonathan Saunders.

The first thing I consumed on the internet this morning was a cop body cam video of said cop shooting an black man in the head. His name was Samuel DuBose.

Is it now a daily, normalised experience for myself, and for others, to consume death, filmed and online?

In between last night and this morning, I put the finishing touches to an essay for a fall publication about some haunting and frantic sketches made by a prisoner in solitary confinement. What is happening in the darkest, invisible, coldest cells of our criminal justice has everything to do with what is happening on our streets (after all, solitary confinement is disproportionately used against men of color and black men are 250% more likely to be thrown in the hole.) In my essay last night I wrote:

The Black Lives Matter movement has successfully tied over-zealous community policing, to stop-and-frisk, to restraint techniques, to custody conditions, to a bail system that abuses the poor, to extended and unconstitutional pretrial detention, to solitary confinement in a devastating critique of a structurally racist nexus of law enforcement. #SayHerName. Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas; Jonathan Saunders in Mississippi; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Charly Leundeu Keunang in Los Angeles; Sgt. James Brown in an El Paso jail; James M. Boyd in the hills of Albuquerque; John Crawford III in a WalMart in Ohio; Walter Scott in North Charleston; Eric Garner and Akai Gurley in New York; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and thousands of more people over the past 12 months alone killed by law enforcement.

The Guardian is trying to keep track, and Josh Begley at the Intercept is trying to visualize killings by cop, but the statistics are frightening and as the cases come more and more often, they seem to get more and more egregious. Ray Tensing straight up murdered Samuel DuBose. No question. July is set to be the deadliest month of the year for people killed by police.

The tragedy heaped upon tragedies that Chin’s article hit home for me was that the news cycle can only deal with a handful of cases at any given time. But there’s scores of officer involved deaths every month. If the rate of killings continues, we’ll have seen over 1,100 deaths at the hands of law enforcement by the close of 2015.

I can’t imagine the trauma, anger and sense of injustice in Saunders’ family and community. I cannot fathom that 1,100 times over. I’m almost lost for words except for this thought. Pre civil rights, photography was used to boast of lynchings and hate crimes. During the civil rights struggle photography was ammunition in the fight for justice and the abolishment of racist laws. Since civil rights photography has broken from its usual documentary constraints to power the biggest growth of any society in the history of man, but despite massive wealth, we are still so poor in terms of understanding inequality and the combined effort by a society to fend it off. Now, images–moving and still–are taking center stage in public outrage and prosecution attempts toward law enforcement personnel who kill citizens. I just wonder what we will do with the footage of death — the jail surveillance tapes and the police body camera videos — if, in 10 or 20 years, we’ve not been able to change anything.

If nothing changes, the footage will become evidence against our own inaction in the face of massive racism and social inequality.

Change we must.

As I am lost for words, I’ll leave you (as Alan Chin did in his article) with the words of Frances Sanders, the mother of Jonathan Sanders.

“He is my son and I loved him and he didn’t deserve to die. There ain’t but one policeman who came to offer his condolences and he was black. So don’t tell me it wasn’t racism. We got a long way to go.”

See more of Alan Chin’s photos from the assignment at Facing Change.

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