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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.

Michael Shaw has been conscientiously restructuring BagNewsNotes over the past six months or so. Here’s how he describes the rebranded Bag:

• An almost hypnotizing archive featuring hundreds of ways to sort through our over 3000 image posts.

• A dedicated photojournalism section, BagNewsOriginals, steered by long-time BNN contributor, Alan Chin with a powerful lineup showcasing BAG’s distinguished contributor, Nina Berman, fresh off her Whitney Biennial success; World Press and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Suau on the economy; and much, much more.

• A Salon section managed by the talented photographer and multimedia producer, Sandra Roa, formerly of the NYT Lens Blog, mixing audio slideshows and live chats, all focusing on key images of the day. We kick off on Wednesday with an audio slide show featuring Ashley Gilbertson’s look at the bedroom shrines of fallen US soldiers.

•  Our mainstay news image analysis by BAG publisher Michael Shaw, with new contributors, including: acclaimed photojournalist Chris Hondros conducting exclusive interviews; leading visual academics Bob Hariman and John Lucaites deconstructing visual culture; and former White House photographer, Stephen Ferry, on media’s pictorial stereotyping of the third world.

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The Bag is all about demystifying (political) imagery and helping people along with visual literacy. Yes, audiences are more savvy, more sophisticated, but there is still a distance to go.

The Bag is the most persistent contributor to this ongoing analysis. The importance of the Bag’s ever critical eye cannot be underestimated in a world that sinks deeper into the swell of images every day.

The new look by designer Naz Hamid of Weightshift is super navigable and I think it is funny (humorous) that the Bag has made use of the same font used by the New York Times’ arts and media blogs.

The font choice is a cheeky nod to the subtle echoes of form and type that run through our daily visual experiences! It’s as if the Bag is testing its own hypothesis from within the permanent elements of its own visual architecture. That, and it doesn’t hurt to have subliminal associations with the Grey Lady!

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MY CONTRIBUTION?

Last year, Shaw contacted me and at the same time as describing Bag’s sweeping changes asked me if I’d come on-board as a contributor.

Writings on US prisons here on Prison Photography will be cross-posted to the Bag in order to bring images and issues of America’s prison industrial complex to a wider audience.

I’ve a got a couple of posts coming up this week so stay alert for those and for all that the Bag offers consequently.

Children Playing in the Ruins, Seville, 1933. 6 5/8 x 9 5/8" silver print. Circa, 1947 © Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Taliban Prisoners, Afghanistan, 2001. © Alan Chin

I have it on good authority that Alan Chin is one of the hardest working and spontaneous photojournalists in the business. He also caught this gem of a shot which for me sums up the shell-shock of war. These men may have been fighters, then prisoners,  but they were/are also naive protectors of a regional social-order based upon the most closed of religious dogmas.

For all America’s imperialist crimes over the past decade, let’s not forget that the Taliban were brutal abusers of human rights, particularly women’s rights.

Is it not the case that the vast majority of men who fight do so because they are followers and not leaders? Heroism is passe; we are all victims of circumstance, not agents of change.

Image Sources; Chin, Cartier Bresson

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