Yes, Watch The Eric Garner Video — But Only If It's For The Right Reason
It's been two days since a Staten Island grand jury returned the decision that anti-racism advocates and protesters against police violence had feared — a non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner earlier this year, a fatal encounter which was captured entirely on film, from start to finish. It's inspired an incredible amount of outrage, and frankly, rightly so, but here's a question worth asking: should you watch the video of Eric Garner's death? It's footage that's inspired a huge amount of outrage, and rightly so — it's little more than a video of a man being killed in a fashion that countless observers, virtually all liberals and many conservatives, have condemned as unnecessary and unjust.
But whether you should actually sit down and watch a man dying while being choked to death on a New York City sidewalk is quite another question, and the answer is complicated. Basically, as with the viewing of any highly sensitive content, the decision whether or not to watch it should reside purely with you, the person who'd be exposed to something that disturbing. It also rests on why you're watching it — voyeuristically? Because you're curious? Because you believe it's a necessary watch? Because you think you should?
There are good, strong arguments on both sides, and with Garner's death looming large over the nation consciousness, here's my take: yes, you should watch.
Make no mistake, there isn't truly a "wrong" answer. Like I said, it's entirely up to you. I don't personally believe I've ever watched footage of a police encounter more startling and harrowing than the Garner footage — with the possible exception of this horrific, hair-trigger shooting of a man retrieving his driver's license from his car (obvious trigger warning). In this sense, despite the understandable feeling of futility, the push for police body cameras in the wake of the killing of Ferguson teen Michael Brown is actually validated, not discredited, by this seemingly incomprehensible grand jury decision.
Like it or not, there's a huge segment of the American population that never would have believed that Garner died the way he did in absence of a complete visual record. And even if Pantaleo escapes the justice so many people think she should suffer (it's still possible he could face federal charges, though that's not assured), the indelible image of him choking Garner on the ground while the latter gasps that he can't breathe will never allow America to wholly forget what happened.
Here's what's not so great, however: news agencies and outlets playing the video unannounced and without warning, giving viewers no opportunity to make that decision for themselves. In a lot of circles over the last many months, the concept of the "trigger warning" has gotten a lot of caustic pushback, with many conservatives attacking such disclaimers as needless, or coddling.
I would hope we can find agreement on this much, at least — playing a video of a man being choked to death by an ostensible protector while he helplessly pleads is something that merits a mention in advance, because it's an absolutely horrible thing to witness.
Important? Absolutely. Did I watch it? I did, and I would have even were it not basically necessitated by my job as a writer. But if you're somebody who's already active or moved by police violence and accountability, and could find yourself protesting in the streets without absorbing such grisly images, don't feel as though you're missing out by not watching. The most important function of the footage, in my eyes at least, is to inform those who would rather stay uninformed.
So, all that being said, if you want to see the Eric Garner video, and you haven't to this point, you can watch it here.
Images: Getty Images (2)