Recordings of deaths-by-cop by concerned bystanders are becoming ubiquitous. Memorialization of state-sanctioned violence against mainly black and brown people is a valuable public service, prodding our moribund "justice" agencies, politicians and news organizations to start counting the dead and demanding accountability.
But Wednesday's live Facebook stream of a motorist dying in Minnesota after being shot in a routine traffic stop brings citizen journalism and bearing witness to a whole new level. Watch it here:
Diamond Reynolds, the victim's girlfriend, dispassionately recounts to her viewing audience the events leading up to all the blood. Rather than attending to her loved one, identified as 32-year-old Philando Castile, she directs her full facial attention toward her camera as the man lies bleeding to death next to her.
The medium has temporarily displaced the terrible reality. Only the cop, pointing his gun at her through the open car window, acts emotionally distraught. Reynolds, the passenger, is the one who behaves calmly and respectfully, obeying the hysterical cop's orders to keep still, her hands on the wheel. Perhaps she realized that if she attempted to give aid to the bleeding man, it would have been construed as reaching for a gun herself and resulted in her own execution. She was likely acting out of pure self-preservation. She'd obviously taken "The Talk" on how to behave around cops while black to heart. Nonetheless, she persists in her triple role as a mate, a citizen-journalist, and a social justice advocate.
“Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him,” she said. “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
It's only after she's removed from the car, her cell phone camera pointing grotesquely up at the clear blue sky, does the personal reality seem to hit her, does she begin to break down and wail, and cry, and mourn.
Once she is placed in the police car, she resumes her calm journalistic narrative to the outside world. Shock, denial and adrenaline combine to enable another surge in her powerful self-possession. Perhaps not yet realizing the gravity of the victim's condition, she is remarkably lucid about the details, recording for posterity the physical characteristics of the shooting officer, the number of shots fired, her physical location, her need for a ride home. Her cell phone simultaneously acts as a cold conduit and as a powerful extension of her own human body.
It's as though she can't allow herself to fully and safely confront what just went down without the aid of that extra electronic eye, that extra electronic larynx.
The cell phone and social media are now a black person's lifeline. The film doesn't lie. History can no longer be revised.