A camera, whether on a phone or as its own separate entity, may commonly be described as a device to capture moments of family reunions, school graduations, and historical moments to keep as memories. In other applications, they are increasingly used for recording surveillance footage in monitoring suspicious activity within private property.
Today, digital images and videos from our phones now act as an extra set of eyes and ears that allows us to document events that happen on the streets in everyday life. Cameras have served an even larger role in our lives by unveiling biases and prejudice against certain groups of humanity – most notably the Black community – that exists in the shadows of our world. These digital images and recordings are now influencing how we see the news and act as visual evidence that the world is a not-so-friendly place after all.
Eight years ago, video footage revealed that a 17-year-old African American, Trayvon Martin, was fatally shot by Police Officer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was charged with murder for Martin’s death, but was later acquitted at trial after claiming self-defense. While there was a large outcry, nothing was done.
Eight years later, more camera footage revealing social injustice emerged: (1) Ahmaud Arbery, An African American man who was jogging in Georgia, was hunted, and shot by two White men. (2) Breonna Taylor, an African American medical technician, was wrongly killed by Louisville Metro Police Department officers in the comfort of her own home. Still, nothing was done to hold the police officers accountable for their actions.
During those eight years, why was nothing done to address and to extinguish this pattern of human rights injustice? One thought that comes to mind is that when these incidents occurred in other communities, the police officers were not charged because the lives of black individuals didn’t rise to the level where a police officer would go to jail.
To acknowledge visual news evidence that racism exists within our society is one thing, but the collective action to hold others accountable didn’t occur until May 25th, 2020. When mentioning the name, George Floyd, the entire world can recall the long and painful video of Derek Chauvin’s knee taking Floyd’s life. This video spurred a cultural upheaval and a series of global protest demonstrations to demand change and accountability. Thus, the camera heightened the concern for Black lives, and made the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement more visible.
But what urged people to act now? Why were the past camera videos of police injustices given a few minutes of outcry and then silence?
A camera is just a camera unless something drastic is happening that pulls people together. Digital images of police actions against black citizens prior to George Floyd basically highlighted the differences that existed due to our historical social, cultural, political, and economic circumstances. When the camera was turned on George Floyd, however, it was in the middle of one of the worst pandemics this world has experienced: the COVID-19 pandemic.
This pandemic kept people across the globe in their homes, only to go out for essential activities. The economy, disease, and lockdown effects were suffered by all. For those who had plenty, the constant news and social media posts kept them connected as witnesses to the plight of others. Just weeks before the video of George Floyd was shown, every news agency and social media outlet reported on how the pandemic adversely affected the Black community five times more than of Caucasian communities. Statistics also state that impoverished Black communities suffered the most from the deadly disease due to limited access to healthcare. These statistics were repeated for other minority and impoverished communities, especially the American Indians living on reservations in the Southwest.
Seeing George Floyd die in front of our eyes under the knee of a white police officer ignited a flame of anger, despair, resentment, and revenge that lasted for weeks across the globe. In essence, the pandemic amplified our solidarity and the power of cameras gave us the eyes we needed to spur forward the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests proclaimed that we are all in this together; we have witnessed a black human life being taken away from us together; we cry and mourn together; we demand change and accountability together.
Because of what happened to George Floyd, the cases of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, are being reopened to bring the white police officers to justice.
Within the span of three months:
Petitions were signed by millions to demand change within the police force.
Protest demonstrations were seen around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Millions of dollars were raised to fund local organizations that supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the pandemic dissipates over time, we hope that what was seen and heard will never be forgotten. We all need to pull together to help rebuild our country, The United States of America, that lives up to not only the ideals of the Constitution, but lives up to how human beings ought to be treated. Because of cameras and the effects of the pandemic, one can understand why modern society can no longer ignore the people who suffered in silence. This is why we must urge others to join us in combating racial injustice and to speak up with those who have already started the fight for human rights.
It is hoped that we are forever changed by the power of a single video image from a phone camera.