Modern-Day Public Lynchings?

Videos on social media cast new light on hate crimes in the United States.

Posted May 30, 2020

by Naadira C. Upshaw, PsyD and Douglas E. Lewis, Jr., PsyD on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates

Source: Shutterstock

Social media has become the primary source for current events, social connectedness, and targeted advertisement. Advantages have come from social media, particularly the capacity to acquire information in real-time. While there are options for filtering data, as we choose those we follow, there is ultimately no control over the content posted by others. Unfortunately, we have observed a growing trend over the years, wherein videos are uploaded depicting the violent and senseless killings of Black men and women.  

We literally watch humans—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, American citizens, co-workers, neighbors, friends, and spouses—plead for their lives, sustain injuries from undue force, and take their final breath. We view murders as if they are episodes of a reality show. Such events have become so frequent that they often feel scripted, as they bear inarguable similarity. If one wonders how the show ends, we can be certain that the final scene depicts the victim’s death followed by the family’s call for justice. After “the show,” in true fashion, viewers weigh in and offer opinions about the production. Some voices join the call for justice while others justify the show’s ending (i.e., the victim’s death) by unearthing irrelevant details of his or her past.  

The show’s protagonist (i.e., the victim) won’t be able to utter words or smile brightly after this production. Alas, this is real life. How many times can we watch the pain and fear of victims and their families? How many times must we see children and mothers explain, through tears, that their loved one (i.e., the victim) mattered? How many times must we see them and their communities plead for some semblance of justice? Too often, we are voyeurs of a never-ending process of fear, anger, and disappointment, which bears no fruit—families fight for the issuance of criminal charges with no hope for conviction. We lie in fear, as we may transition at any moment from voyeurs to victims ourselves—whether watching television in our homes, donning a hoodie on our way to a friend’s house, or jogging in our neighborhoods.   

We are exhausted. Why? Every day, as clinicians, we awake with intention to report to work and help others improve their quality of life. We rail against systemic barriers to advocate for our clients. Still, as Black Americans, these same barriers also endanger our lives, irrespective of educational attainment, social status, profession, and character. We are constantly bombarded with dark reminders that despite how much we strive to be good stewards of society, thanklessly providing our skills and compassion, we remain unsafe in any space. We, too, are subjected to the slayings of Black Americans on social media and feel the disregard espoused by the silence or vitriol of our colleagues and peers.   

Such experiences worsen, while living through the COVID-19 pandemic, as we watch the death toll rise on our televisions like the calls of auctioneers. These experiences force us to question how we have wandered so far from honoring the value of human life. Naively, we interpret that the value of Black lives has diminished, but the truth feels much darker, in that there was little value from the beginning. This phenomenon isn’t novel, and what we experience now, is the new stage for lynching in the 21st century.    

Now, more than ever, it is time for all people—not just Black Americans—to reaffirm the value of life.  First, we argue that, just like pornographic material, these images should have warnings about their violent nature, so that consumers may have the option to view them. Second, we should upload positive images of Black Americans to social media, with the intention to dispel negative, race-based stereotypes. Offer emotional support to members of the Black community and do not be afraid to engage in these difficult conversations. We believe that expressed concern, while acknowledging gaps in understanding, trumps silence. It is imperative that we hear from people of every racial/ethnic group speak truth to these injustices. Finally, remember that representation matters, and members of diverse groups should be included at every level and sphere of society to ward off continued prejudice.