Jayne: Disturbing video exposes evil that’s hidden too long

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

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Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

The unavoidable reaction is to be revolted. To question the depravity of humanity and to weigh our capacity for inhumanity.

A group of young adults in Chicago last week kidnapped a mentally disabled 18-year-old and proceeded to torture him for hours. The captors slapped, kicked, and punched the victim, slashed off part of his scalp, flicked cigar ashes into the wound, made him drink toilet water, and verbally abused him. The perpetrators were black; the victim was white. At least one of the criminals shouted epithets about Donald Trump and white people. Oh, and they streamed a portion of this on Facebook Live.

Four suspects have been arrested and charged with a variety of offenses, ranging from kidnapping to hate crimes. It is reasonable to conclude that justice will be served in this case.

For anybody who has a modicum of compassion, the video is difficult to watch. Yet, because it arrives at the intersection of race and politics and violence and social media, it is impossible to ignore. Many, many words already have been spoken and written about the torture; many, many tweets already have been tweeted. And while people on both ends of the spectrum have attempted to distort this depravity for their personal political gain, I can’t help but think we will be better for this video coming to the attention of the public.

No, not for the gross violence it depicts. Not for the wedge it offers for those who endeavor to divide us along racial lines. Not for the copycat or retaliatory attacks it might inspire. But for the very fact that it illuminates what previously would have been a shadowy incident.

The harsh reality provided by the existence of a video makes the evil undeniable, giving life to it in a way that mere words in a newspaper article cannot. And it is only through that illumination that we, as a society, can effectively identify and eradicate such evil.

Seeing is believing

Forgive me if I am repeating myself (and I am), but 25 years ago, in the wake of the Rodney King beating, a friend of mine postulated that TV is bad. If there had not been videotape of King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers, he argued, then Los Angeles would not have erupted in deadly riots when those officers were acquitted. I argued the opposite, that we were better off for having knowledge about police brutality rather than allowing such brutality to remain in the dark corners of our culture. Even if that knowledge proved costly in terms of lives and property.

The same can be said for numerous videos of police shooting unarmed suspects in recent years. While many people reasonably believe that visual depictions of such shootings unfairly besmirch the reputations of all police officers, I have an opposite reaction.

I wonder how many shootings over the decades were deemed “justified” because the account of the incident became one-sided — the word of an officer against a dead suspect. I wonder how many lynchings would have been prevented during 20th century America if everybody had a smartphone in those days. I wonder how much progress we would have made in race relations if bigotry on both sides had been exposed over the years as it is in this you’re-always-being-watched era.

In 1955, a black 14-year-old from Chicago named Emmitt Till was lynched in Mississippi. His mother insisted upon an open-casket funeral, saying, “I just wanted the world to see.” Photos of the mutilated body appeared in Jet magazine and other publications, and the incident became a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement. Visual evidence can galvanize outrage more quickly than a million flowery words.

At times, it seems that little progress has been made since then. At times it seems as though we are more divided than ever, and that incidents such as that in Chicago are something new.

They are not. They have been happening since the beginning of time. But the fact that we are more aware of them now is the first step toward eradicating the revolting attitudes that create them.