[This post was originally published on the first Home Yesterday in April, 2015.]
Watch the videos and see the pictures. A mother slapping her child. Black men and boys throwing rocks at police. A police officer shooting a man in the back. Drone strikes on blurry human targets. Riot police advancing on crowds, behind tear gas. Armored vehicles in American cities. A dozen police officers kicking a horse thief. Beheadings. A limp body being loaded into a paddy wagon.
TV and the internet are feeding us these videos and photos every waking minute. News people know what they are about: ratings are through the roof. We deplore the images, and even complain about seeing them, but ad executives know us better than we know ourselves. Whatever we say we don’t want to see, they are in the business of knowing — and business is good.
Violence fills our screens and we carry our screens everywhere. We used to worry about such images in movies and video games — people said kids’ minds would be affected, remember that? The advent of the cell phone camera left that all behind. Real violence tops the charts now.
Some people say “thank God for cell phone cameras” or “videos finally let us see for ourselves what’s really going on.” I thought the same when these videos started to proliferate. But after watching Baltimore, and listening to all the reactions, it sounds like no one is learning anything. You can’t see what you don’t believe. Our pre-loaded perspectives means video just shows us what we already knew anyway.
If the government of Maryland demands that the citizens of West Baltimore forswear violence, they might reply: “you first.” That is always the question about a cease fire: who will go first? Three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But we’re coming up pretty short on turning that other cheek. In fact, our policy seems to be that you won’t even catch us on the first cheek, before we blow your a** away.
So the wind is sown. Our investments in organized violence repay us in the same coin without fail, year after year, month after month, day after day. All the riches in the world can’t save us. The wealthiest country in the world has rioting 50 miles from its capital. Watch the videos again if you can. Try to imagine that every single person, in every single one of them, is the victim. At both ends of the batons, the rocks, and the guns, people suffer. And all because we can’t find a better answer to the question: “how are we going to live with one another.”