The raw videos depict the last moments of Philando Castile‘s and Alton Sterling‘s lives. Widely shared on social media – one of them live – they have shocked an entire nation. Like the videos that showed the killings of Walter L. Scott, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner in 2014 and 2015, they provide the necessary imagery to force us to address, once again, the pervasive and inherent racial inequalities that still exist across the country.
More than 60 years ago, when racial segregation was still the norm in many states, one grieving mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, understood the power of imagery to expose America’s racism.
In August 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. There he encountered Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Whether Till really flirted with Bryant or whistled at her isn’t known. But what happened four days later is. Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother, J.W. Milam, seized the 14-year-old from his great-uncle’s house. The pair then beat Till, shot him, and strung barbed wire and a 75-pound metal fan around his neck and dumped the lifeless body in the Tallahatchie River. A white jury quickly acquitted the men, with one juror saying it had taken so long only because they had to break to drink some pop.