Releasing footage to the public often gives rise to an ethical and societal dilemma, especially when it shows a violent incident. The question is not just one of who should view certain footage, but also of whether it is right to release the footage in the first place.
America is once more dealing with this dilemma due to the recent shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday, Nov. 5. Devin Kelley (equipped with a bulletproof vest and AR-556) opened fire onto a rural community church and soon entered the church to continue his rampage. According to NPR, a total of 26 people were killed in Texas’ shooting, and 20 people were additionally wounded.
Some Texas residents and former law enforcement officials are calling for the footage to be “locked up forever,” or simply destroyed. Furthermore, people are arguing that the footage is too “raw,” and can also re-traumatize families.
Despite it being too early to release the footage of the incident, we must abstain from the idea of not releasing the footage at all. We cannot attempt to ignore or sugarcoat harsh realities and problems America is facing as of now.
Footage forces us to further analyze and understand the truth when it comes to situations like these. It gets us involved with the problem revolving around the incident, despite the fact that we weren’t physically present at the time. Ultimately, the audience and those affected now extends from first-hand victims and witnesses in Texas, to the whole nation. Thus, the Texas shooting is no longer a problem or cause of grief just for Texas, but for all Americans as well.
It is important to acknowledge that families must be traumatized, and it does take some time to recover from situations like these. Also, many people must still replay the moment of the incident in their heads, and even the mentioning of the murderer’s name must bring shivers down the spines of those affected. Yet, it is vital to notice the context of this situation and why footage must eventually be released to the public.
Kelley’s act of murder finds itself in the midst of current political indecisiveness toward gun control, in addition to a dilemma of whether it is a person’s state of mind that matters, or the person’s possession of a gun, that leads to such atrocities.
In this case, it is hard to expect people to worry about the current gun control crisis if they don’t put themselves in the victim’s shoes, or if they don’t undergo an experience that illustrates the need to address gun control. Many people may simply read an article and are moved, but footage somehow mesmerizes us and puts to use our senses of sight and hearing. We now gain a better picture of the situation, and the extent to which a problem can reach if it is repeatedly ignored.
With that established, it is important to note that footage can spur a common national sentiment toward addressing a problem. There have been plenty of examples in America’s past. For example, the release of the 1968 Tet offensive footage during the Vietnam War made Americans realize that America was actually losing the war overseas, and caused a national anti-war movement, with people notoriously chanting in front of the White House, “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”
Another prime example is the footage of the recent shooting in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 1. The way in which Stephen Paddock mercilessly shot at concert goers for 9 to 11 minutes left the American public baffled and caused political upheaval in Congress. Witnessing the chaos that results from lack of action regarding gun control, and seeing people of all ages fearfully running for their lives, seemed to create a further sense of urgency to address the gun control dilemma. Thus, the most violent and inhumane acts can actually bring humanity together to feel and act as one.
Footage is often quite necessary to make the American public aware of national problems that need to be addressed urgently. It can bring out our deepest sentiments, and thus can create a common national sentiment. The truth may hurt and may be painful to accept at times, but as Oscar Wilde stated, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”