Some say sharing videos of police brutality against Black people is just 'trauma porn'

A small group of Black Lives Matter protesters held a rally on the steps of the Kenosha County courthouse Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot Jacob Blake Sunday evening.

(CNN)In powerful social media pleas, some people are asking others to stop sharing videos of police brutality against Black men.

The requests come after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was shot seven times in the back as he attempted to enter the driver's side door of an SUV on Sunday, according to state officials and attorney Ben Crump. Blake's three sons -- ages 3, 5 and 8 -- were witness to the shooting, Crump said.
The two officers involved were put on administrative leave as state authorities investigate the events leading up to the shooting, which was caught on camera by a witness. He remained in intensive care late Monday, Crump said. He is suffering from paralysis from the waist down, his father, Jacob Sr., told CNN, but he wasn't sure if the condition is permanent.
Five hours after the incident unfolded, Crump posted a 13-second video of the shooting, which has amassed 9.3 million views. The incident sparked protests that prompted county officials to institute another curfew Monday night.
    The video and its dissemination have elevated an ongoing conversation about the effects of watching and sharing videos of police brutality against Black people and raised questions what it is doing to the mental health of those watching.
    Some argue showing such videos does nothing more than exploit traumatic moments such as a beatings or killings. Others think showing the videos is necessary to hold police officers accountable for their actions.
    Jacob Blake with his sons.

    Do we need video to hold police accountable?

    On Sunday, Eliza Orlins, a New York public defender and Manhattan district attorney candidate, retweeted a photo of Blake and his children with the caption, "It just keeps happening. I will not share the video. No one should have to watch that."
    "I think that it should really be a choice and sharing it again mainly serves to amplify Black pain, and I know that there are people that disagree that we should keep presenting evidence of police violence to bring about change and I think it's a completely reasonable disagreement," Orlins told CNN. "But I just think that subjecting people to these painful videos without them choosing to view them is pretty upsetting."
    And while she said she doesn't fault people for sharing it, she thinks "the case to hold police accountable is already very well established and we shouldn't need another video to see it."
    "When there's another video of clear excessive force by police, another video doesn't necessarily demonstrate that any more than all the videos we've seen already and anybody that is still denying that is just choosing to lack empathy or lack awareness," Orlins said.
    Jelani Cobb, the Ira A. Lipman professor of journalism at Columbia Journalism School, spoke during a webinar called "Picturing Black Deaths," where the conversation focused on the ongoing flood of shocking videos of the killings of Black citizens by police.
    Referencing the videos that surfaced of George Floyd, Tamir Rice and Philando Castille's final moments caught on camera, Cobb asked, "What right do we have, really, to intrude upon someone's final moments, which is the most personal thing that happens to you ... aside from birth?"
    After these videos surfaced and circulated, Cobb said in the webinar, "It's difficult because on the one hand, there was this awakening. ... People were going like, 'Oh wow this really does happen ... the things that Black people have been saying for all this time really do occur' and in order to prove that they occur, we have to further dehumanize the person who it happened to."

    Desensitizing America to Black pain

    Destiny Singh, an associate attorney in Atlanta, is calling for an end to what she calls "trauma porn" and said she has chosen not to watch the video of Blake for self-care purposes, having seen so many similar in her previous work.
    "While your intention may be to 'bring awareness,' remember that America is already aware, it just doesn't care," she tweeted Monday. "This is the same country that enslaved Black bodies and gave poor white people the right to police them."
    Singh told CNN trauma porn is "using other people's trauma to shock our system to galvanize support on the issue of police brutality against Black men and ignite some sort of fire in us, which is essentially what sexual porn does."
    "To me, it's disgusting," she said. "These videos and mass circulation of videos and photos of Black and brown bodies being slain in the streets, have existed since the slaying of Emmett Till. So when people say we're doing this to raise awareness, what are we raising awareness about?"
    "Just because we have a new medium to show these killings and lynchings, doesn't mean these aren't the same images that have been going around for decades and centuries," she said.
    Singh compared the circulation of these videos to seeing a car accident in the street -- car accidents happen every day, she said, oftentimes people are shocked and then they move on with their lives.
    "We see them, we're desensitized to them (car accidents) and that's what these videos are doing, they're desensitizing America to our pain."
    For those who want to raise awareness to amplify the voices of Black people, she wants people to "think about the Black people who have to endure these images all the time, who have to worry about sending their sons out and coming back in a casket," Singh said.