News reports of violent shootings in America, and particularly black men at the hands of police, have become alarmingly frequent. But the voices of commentators and rapid politicization that follows such an event often drowns out the actual humans at the center of the tragedy.
Lavish Reynolds’ video uploaded to Facebook Live, which shows the moments after her partner Philando Castile was fatally shot by police at a traffic stop, put those humans front and center. For Castile, “social media was the only 911”, writes Wired’s Issie Lapowsky.
“Stay with me,” Reynolds says at the start of the clip. Everything is visible—Castile’s twisted limbs, blood, and shrieks. It’s evident by the tone of Reynolds’ voice that the video was meant to be publicized. Even as her boyfriend lay dying beside her, she sounds utterly unsurprised.
“Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him,” Reynolds says while managing to stay calm and composed amid the horror.
According to The Guardian, 566 people have been killed by police in the US in 2016 alone. This week, the videos that have circulated on social media of police brutality make these horrific events at distant places feel real for everyone.
“I wanted to put it on Facebook to go viral, so that the people could see,” Reynolds said of the footage, according to Wired. “I wanted the people to determine who was right and who was wrong. I want the people to be the testimony here.”
Just days prior to Castile’s fatal shooting, Alton Sterling, a black man who was selling CDs outside a convenience store, was shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The incident, which is now being investigated, was captured by a bystander on his smartphone.
Such videos channeled on social media are opening up evidence to the public. As we saw with the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the fatal shooting by police of unarmed black man Walter Scott in South Carolina in 2015, scenarios that might have otherwise been disputed now have the chance to reverberate across the world.
Live video (warning: graphic) was also one of the primary sources of information as a sniper attack unfolded in Dallas on July 7, in which five police officers were killed and several more injured. It was the deadliest day for US law enforcement since 9/11.
Here, social media also gave citizens the chance to correct potentially grave inaccuracies. At 10:52PM local time, Dallas police tweeted out an image of a man, later identified as Mark Hughes, whom they sought as a suspect.
Twitter users pointed out that Hughes was in fact marching at the time one of the shootings occurred. Later, a video surfaced of him being taken aside by police and handing over his weapon to officers.
Hughes turned himself in and was later released from custody, Dallas News reports.
Amid such tragic footage, the question that remains is whether this wider dissemination will change hearts and minds. “Technology does not eradicate racism, and it does not exact justice,” writes Marcie Bianco. “Assuming otherwise will only make the problem worse.”
Yet, as a vehicle for shining light on horrors that would otherwise go unnoticed it is having a powerful role.