Monday, December 3, 2018

Photos and the Fallen : History Isn't About Our Feelings

*evidence photo from the Newhall incident, 1970*

*updated December 2018, originally posted in March 2017*

Photos from life's front lines force change, and sometimes change the course of history.
What we remember, and how we remember it, is shaped by the images we associate with the events. That's why we remember a boy named Emmett Till, but don't have names for thousands of other crime victims.
It's why modern law enforcement understands deeply the effects of the North Hollywood Bank Robbery, but not so much the effects of a century of train robberies.

Like everyone else, I've been monitoring the news from London. As usual, I'm going to sound less-than-sensitive just now.
You can disagree if you want;
If I were a delicate flower, I'd have had to find something else to do a long time ago.

I've seen some outrage over upsetting photos on news articles today, cries and criticism that they should be un-published.
*MP Tobias Ellwood renders aid to a fallen officer*
The photos are meant to be upsetting.
They are meant to be an outrage.
They're not supposed to be sensitive to anyone's feelings, even the families of the victims.
The photos are a record of history.
Photojournalists , and now dash cams, body cams and common citizens with cell phones, stop time and record it, so that we do not forget.

Someone committed acts of evil today.
Someone will tomorrow.
Someone will lose a loved one.
Their lives have meaning, and worth.
They deserve recording, and remembering.
There are iconic photos of moments in history, whether lovely, or heartbreaking or horrifying, that all of us have seen because someone else took a photo, and an editor published it.

These images and events, whether a churchyard in Antietam strewn with soldiers, emaciated corpses in a mass grave in Bergen, the Zapruder film, the scorched little girl fleeing napalm, the bravery of a student in Tienanmen Square, a thousand yard stare in Iraq, the Dinkheller video or the fallen in Westminster, must not be airbrushed, edited into acceptability or hidden away.
*Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, Reagan assassination attempt*

It's not about your feelings.
It is evidence: that this happened, that real people fell, that we must remember, that this must not happen again.

If you are highly sensitive to visuals, or caring for someone who is, turn on the radio, turn off your TV, and get off social media for a while.
The fault is not with the photos.

It is not correct that only what is lovely should be visible.
We who can bear it owe it to those who died and those who survive them not to look away--and to make sure that those responsible are called to account.

That is not only for someone in a uniform.
Any of us with a mind and a voice or a keyboard can do this.
Turn the page, if you must.
But don't turn your back because that's easier.
And don't require that anyone else does.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hypocrisy and Free Speech : Words Mean Things

I shouldn't have to qualify this, but I will-- I am an ardent believer in the freedom of the press.
It's one of the five First Freedoms enshrined in the constitution, and I frequently annoy friends and readers who haven't worked with journalists, by defending them.
I'm an advocate for free speech, another of those First Freedoms.
That said, I'm stuck.

^^ Up there is a quote from Assemblywoman Michele Fiore , NV (R) during a 2016 news interview. She was exercising her right to free speech, and access to a free press.

Following the coverage of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate, I heard the following accusation against influential people who have been critical of the press:
that saying nasty things about people incites violence, and allows those committing crimes to justify their actions against The Other, the one who 'deserves' it, the one who has been demonized.

When progressive politicians and news outlets were targeted by a domestic terrorist sending explosives through the mail, the refrain was repeated again, this time on behalf of the elected officials as well.
Criticism of insulting metaphors, and controversial depictions of representatives from past political contests filled the airwaves, and acres of print.

While activists and commentators blame ugly political speech for violence against women, immigrants and racial or religious minorities, I want to know why divisive politicized rhetoric is acceptable when it targets cops, even after violence resulting in multiple casualties at a time.
(In 2008, 42 officers were killed by gunfire; when this post first published in 2018, we were already up to 49. Despite the protests from copblockers, more cops have been killed feloniously than accidentally for a long time now.
Go ahead and fact check me on's statistics page. )

I have been told many times to shut up and get over myself--- that it's free speech, protesters blowing off steam, people expressing themselves, words don't have that power, cops know what they signed up for and can stop being one any time they want.
I was told that people just doing a job they can quit shouldn't expect any sort of protection from threats,stereotyping or dehumanization, whether it's by an authority figure or on social media.

Hypocrisy makes me angry.

Journalism is a profession, like law enforcement, not a protected class like sex, race or religion.
So is being an elected official, like the ones targeted with mail bombs by the nutter from Florida.
Law enforcement officers are United States citizens just like journalists and elected officials.
Just like them, they have civil rights, including an expectation that they may live without being targeted for the job they do.

Academics, journalists, politicians and the public have a choice to make here:
either words can be destructive and incite destructive behavior, or it's all just permissible free speech, immune to criticism.
No one gets to have it both ways.
It's time to grow up and own the damage.

In the words of the famous, fictional LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, "Everybody counts, or nobody counts."
We don't have second class citizens in our country.
Or, at least, we shouldn't.