Tuesday, May 31, 2022


In a New York Times op-ed, Susie Linfield, a journalism professor, writes about the question of showing the world exactly what happened to the kids in Uvalde.
On social media and in the press, some, including the former homeland security chief Jeh Johnson, have suggested that photographs of the slaughtered children, whose faces and bodies were apparently mutilated beyond recognition, be released to the public in hopes of garnering support for gun control legislation.

Mr. Johnson called this an “Emmett Till moment,” alluding to a photograph of the 14-year-old Black boy who was tortured and murdered by white racists in Mississippi in 1955. His mother had insisted on an open casket: Let the world — make the world — see what her son’s tormentors had done. And the world did: The photograph of Till taken by Jet magazine was reproduced throughout the country and abroad and helped invigorate the civil rights movement.
It's a compelling idea, but it wouldn't work. First, as Linfield says, we shouldn't assume the response would be what we want it to be.
Images are slippery things, and it is both naïve and arrogant to assume that an image will be interpreted in only one way (that is, yours) and that it will lead to direct political change (the kind you support). Anti-abortion activists frequently wave images of fetuses at their rallies; these photos denote, to them, a nascent human being in need of protection. To abortion rights advocates, the image is sentimental, manipulative and, frankly, disgusting.
If the images are released, or are on the verge of being released, many people who'd are critical of the gun culture will denounce the decision. Here's Michael Cohen (the liberal Boston Globe columnist, not the former Trump lawyer):

Many liberals will denounce the decision to release the photos (sincerely), while every conservative will also denounce the decision (cynically). We won't be talking about what we're seeing. We'll be talking about propriety. We'll be having the same conversation we have when liberals harass a Republican in a restaurant or demonstrate outside a Republican's home -- except that this will involve dead children. We won't be talking about the horror of the images or the morality of allowing this kind of violence to take place on a regular basis. All we'll be talking about is the decision to release the photos.

But maybe there's a way to convey the horror of assault weapon violence without traumatizing the families of murder victims. Maybe we could ask survivors of assault weapon wounds if they'd be willing to let us see what happened to them. We don't need to see them in the immediate aftermath of a shooting -- we can see them when the victims have recovered (though probably not fully). If there are photos of their wounds and they're willing to share them and talk about them, maybe we'll understand more about how damaging these weapons are.

We've been told how bad the wounds are, and it's not pleasant. You might not want to read this:
... the injury patterns seen in relation to AR-15 military-style assault rifles are somewhat indescribable. Bullets fired from these weapons exit the barrel at supersonic speeds that are 3x faster than conventional low velocity handguns. The increased velocity rate of these projectiles results in a cavitation effect on impact with the human body, such that the bullet causes a ripple wave of destruction to arteries, veins and soft tissues. Organs that experience high velocity gun injury are left eviscerated. Bony structures that are directly impacted by these ballistic missiles are reduced to rubble. The exit wounds associated with AR-15 firearms are often the size of grapefruits. Simply put, when Surgeons attempt life-saving measures in these cases, there is often nothing salvageable to fix.
Perhaps we'd benefit from seeing such wounds. But let's ask adult survivors who can consent. Maybe we can avoid some of the arguments about propriety, and maybe we can change a few minds.

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