I am almost always angry nowadays. Things in the world and in our country are going so wrong, I can’t see how any caring person can stay calm and sane. Politics in particular troubles me deeply, as a system manipulated to keep the worst people in power daily produces existential threats to our very species and mocks the people who point to those threats.
Today, what I feel anger about is this video from New Jersey. It was captured on a nanny-cam and released by the victim so her assailant could be identified and brought to justice. In this video, a White-looking suburbanite is brutally assaulted by a Black man. He beats her, pulls her hair, and throws her down a flight of stairs for no apparent reason other than to hurt her. Her 3-year-old daughter looks on, and the woman tries to be brave so as not to trouble the child unduly.
The assault is in itself enough cause for anger for a peaceful man. But the video is set in a context of race-baiting and fear-mongering that needs to be explicated.
First, I advise you not to watch the movie. I have linked it here from the most responsible source I could find (a competition perhaps akin to seeking the prettiest horned toad) simply to prove it exists. There is no reason to actually watch it to satisfy this need.
When I first saw the movie (on Facebook, a frequent source of anger for me), it was embedded with the headline “NEEDS TO GO VIRAL!! BRUTAL HOME INVASION (GRAPHIC) HELP CATCH HIM.” The link also contained the lines “This is why you need a gun and training to use it. The lamestream media won’t tell you that though.” The poster did not intend this content, merely the video, and had reasonable intentions about an opportunity for the phenomenology of violence.
The source I have linked is a news agency in New Jersey and lacks the overt, irresponsible sensationalism of that source. Covertly, it is just as bad.
This video aired on the local news in the area in which the crime took place. Here is where my anger starts to have its foundation: there is absolutely nothing in this short piece of film to make it newsworthy. People assault each other every day in this country. Very few such assaults are of affluent people by big Black men. So, by its rarity we might think it newsworthy, but this is simple prejudice. We show this movie and link it in panic but don’t stop to consider the 17-plus murders of Black people that take place in our country every day, and the countless assaults of the same. It is akin to devoting hours of airtime to missing White children, and at best, a short paragraph on page 32 of the newspaper nobody reads any more to the missing Black ones.
Ostensibly, the video was shown on the news to help catch the suspect. Was there really any value, though, in showing him using his fists and feet to subjugate the victim? Surely, a still picture would have helped identify him just as well. If motion helps, seeing the man’s movements and posture, then just as surely a few seconds of video not containing graphic, prejudicial violence would have served just as well?
The real reason for showing the whole video is that news agencies are for profit. Simply speaking, if one station failed to show it, viewers would watch it on another station. The moral decision falls by the wayside to ratings. The television news has to censor the photos of the starlet getting out of her limousine with no underwear on and so lose traffic to the internet; this is a case where they can legally show the whole pornographic event and not lose viewers to YouTube.
What is the effect of this sort of video on the populace?
The event is incredibly rare. Palardy, a police captain working on the case, notes in the linked report that he cannot remember the last home invasion. He has worked on the force for more than 25 years. Statistics are not available for home invasions as they are not their own category of crime: the assailant will likely be charged with breaking and entering, theft, and aggravated assault. It is not common enough to warrant its own criminal label.
But people—not psychologists, but general, TV watching people—don’t think statistically. They respond to anecdotal evidence. Mention that smoking causes cancer, and someone in the room will pipe up that they know someone who is 102 who has smoked since they were 12 years old. This anecdote, while easily remembered and apparently proof that the assertion is false, actually does not contradict the statistics at all. Some people smoke their whole lives without apparent ill effect. But smoking does, statistically speaking, cause cancer as well as all manner of other health effects.
The story, to the human mind, trumps the evidence. It is more immediate, vital, believable evidence than the statistics.
This video is “immediate, believable, vital evidence” that Black men break into houses and assault the occupants for no reason.
People in the victim’s neighborhood used to feel safe and now feel afraid. There is almost no chance that they will be victims of the same or a similar crime. There is almost no chance anyone in their neighborhood, or yours, or of any of the people who watch the video, will be victims of this or a similar crime. But we will feel fear, buy guns, vote our fears, help fund prisons and defund mental health because we are afraid. When we see a Black man on the street, we cross over and walk on the other side—and I don’t just mean the White people. As this video illustrates, people of color are just as deeply affected as Whites by media portrayals of Blacks as violent, unemployed, thuggish street criminals, and are as hateful and fearful towards their selves as others are towards them.
Violence and racism. These are what are spread by even the best-meaning attempts to disseminate this video. The first source I saw, a TV news station’s web page, had a comments section full of hate and fear. People wanted to buy guns, and to assault or kill the suspect in the video. One such comment read, “If I ever kill someone in this life, I hope it is someone like this guy.”
For the people involved in this story, it was very important and deeply relevant. I truly hope the release of this video helps in the capture of this suspect, and that he experiences the very best of American justice.
But how many videos can we show of people not being brutally assaulted in their homes to help people experience just the right level of realistic fear? This will almost certainly never happen to you. If it does, there is almost certainly nothing you can do about it—the idea that a gun in a safe upstairs where it is out of reach of children might have saved this woman her pain is laughable and, if it had, would have cost this man his life. If it probably won’t happen and if you can’t stop it when it does, does it bear even the amount of thought you have already given it?
Friend and editor Sarah Kass is increasingly an advocate for existential activism. I would not give myself that label—I can barely stand to go to the grocery store, never mind take serious action. But starting today, I think I will end every entry with a list of the small things we can do. While it will have “you” in the subject heading, I will be doing these small things, too. So, without further ado:
What you can do:
First, when you see these videos pop up on Facebook or trending on YouTube, just don’t watch them. They make you sick.
Second, when your friends repost them, mention why it is problematic. Maybe they will hear you and maybe not—criticism on the internet is often taken as flaming and starts pointlessly exaggerated arguments. But I am willing to risk some short-term disharmony for greater long-term harmony.
Finally, when news agencies expose you to this sort of violence, wonder why—and wonder in public. Write to the editors, post on their comments pages. Have a voice. And, go ahead and remain angry to the extent that you can also remain civil.
— Jason Dias