Video footage of the recent massacre in Tucson, Arizona, has surfaced. It will definitely be used in court, but should the public see it too?
Almost two weeks out from the Tucson, Arizona, massacre that left six people dead, one congresswoman on the brink of death, and several others hospitalized, most Americans still can’t picture the horror that took place in that Safeway parking lot. Try as we might to fathom the carnage, we’re left to piece together the incident based on various eyewitness testimonies and, perhaps, our nightmares. But now comes news that alleged gunman Jared Loughner’s rampage was caught on tape, and with a clarity that allows you to see heroic rescues and horrific deaths.
Without a doubt, prosecutors will make this security camera footage their star piece of evidence in the case against Loughner. But in an age of increasing transparency, when everyone wants as much information as possible, does the Tucson shooting video also belong on YouTube?
The case against releasing the footage, of course, is obvious and visceral: It is morbid and hurtful to the victims’ families to dwell on the Arizona bloodshed on the internet’s various blogs and video-sharing sites. What’s more, thanks to the dark anonymity of the web, we can be all but certain that a great many people would revel in the violence, writing “LOLZ” on screenshots and making memes out of gore. Like it or not, these are the pitfalls of the internet.
But just because people do terrible things with otherwise valuable tools does not mean we should scrap the tools. That’s the case gun supporters make for guns, and it’s perhaps the best case to be made for releasing the Tucson shooting video.
If you don’t think bloody images can be tools, consider the powerful photographs of dead women and children that were used to great success to change American public opinion about the Vietnam War. Pictures of things like the My Lai Massacre and “Napalm Girl” rightfully horrified people, and it made them reevaluate their support of not just that war, but all war.
The killings in Tucson, while deadly serious, are not Vietnam. But that doesn’t mean they can’t add serious weight to our cultural dialogue. In the documentary Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore used security footage of the Columbine High School shooting that shook the nation in order to make a greater point about America's gun culture. Was that exploitative? Would it be out of the question to begin every gun safety course in America by showing a violent rampage and warning the students, “When things go wrong with guns, they go very wrong”? We show smokers diseased lungs from cadavers and DUI groups travel the country with mangled wreckage caused in drunk-driving accidents. Why not remind Americans in the most potent way possible the havoc that guns can wreak?
This isn’t to say the Tucson footage should be splashed senselessly across the web, nor is it to say that the video even belongs outside of Loughner’s courtroom. But writing off ugly videos as always being unfit for public consumption is wrong, and it forgets that we often have to confront terrible problems head-on if we’re to make progress.
In one of the first WikiLeaks releases of record, a video depicts American soldiers outright murdering civilians with a Black Hawk helicopter. I'm sure the footage must be hard for the victims' families to watch, but it also changed the world. What's more important?