How to (not) watch viral videos about police brutality

Angela Blount doesn’t watch police violence videos. She did not watch the video of police beating Tyre Nichols, a black motorist in Memphis, Tennessee, who later died from his injuries. She didn’t watch the video of a Minneapolis cop killing George Floyd.

And she probably won’t watch the next viral video of a black American being beaten or killed by law enforcement.

“I have a black son and two black grandchildren. It’s like watching my own child or grandchildren get beaten to death,” she said. “I’m 67 years old and I didn’t want to do this with my body, my mind, my spirit. I needed to protect myself.”

Videos of police violence have caused a change in the attitude of Americans. But viewing them can also cause real harm.

“Of course, if you see someone being killed, it can trigger some kind of traumatic reaction, definitely some anxiety,” says Adaobi Anyeji, a clinical psychologist and founder of Blue Clinic, a psychology center in downtown Los Angeles that specializes in anxiety. and depression.

Even for people who feel compelled to watch such videos, it can be frustrating or impossible to watch them for long periods of time, over and over again, year after year.

Aubrey Backus, a 25-year-old black man from Los Angeles, had enough of a short excerpt from an hour-long video from Memphis.

“I saw this story and the same video over and over again,” he said. “I personally know it’s just exhausting. Especially being black, it’s like watching me get beaten up or killed by the police. I don’t want to see it all the time, even though I know it’s happening.”

But videos of policemen beating or killing civilians can be hard to avoid. Here are some tips for handling them:

You don’t have to watch to be aware

Victims’ families and advocates hope that posting images and videos of violence can lead to change. Sometimes it happens: Rosa Parks said images of the mutilated body of 14-year-old Emmett Till prompted her to refuse to give up one’s seat on the bus a few weeks later. Minnesota governor Tim Walz said that without witness videos, the officers involved in Floyd’s murder would never have been convicted.

But sometimes videos of police brutality don’t lead to prosecution of the officers involved. Those saw the beating of Rodney King in a 1991 video, for example, were acquitted by a Supreme Court jury. (They were later convicted by a federal jury).

You don’t need to watch police violence videos to be aware. You need to know yourself and your limits before exposing yourself to a nasty video, says Arron Muller, a New York-based licensed clinical social worker whose clients are mostly black men, women and children.

For some people, “watching is unhealthy,” Mueller said. “Don’t think that in order to move or keep your Blackness, you have to look at these images. [Not watching] does not deny your blackness, does not deny that you care about it.

People who want to stay informed about police violence but don’t want to see graphic images of it can follow the news instead, Mueller said. If you feel a call to action, participating in peaceful rallies or writing letters to your chosen officials can make the difference, he added. Most major news outlets have a strict code of ethics and generally avoid publishing objectionable material while still accurately reporting its content.

Even though she didn’t watch the Memphis video, Blount said she was able to find out about it by watching it. eulogy delivered by Rev. Al Sharpton at Nichols’ funeral and television interview with Nichols’ mother, Row Von Wells.

“It broke my heart and therefore I didn’t have to look at the pictures,” Blount said. – I heard it from her.

Don’t look alone

If you choose to watch violent videos, watch them with someone you trust in a supportive environment, Agyeji advised.

“When you select people to watch, make sure they are people you have relationships with, people who are empathetic and supportive,” she said.

She recommends making a list of soothing activities and questions to ask each other after watching a disturbing video. If you are already on supportive care with a therapist, you can also discuss this with them.

“Right before watching, make a plan… so that when you watch the video and it gets all these reactions, which can be very unpleasant, very confusing, you already have a plan of what you are going to do in order to take care of yourself.” she added.

Muller recommends that you also write about your thoughts and feelings in a journal. He added that believers might benefit from praying to “focus.”

Check yourself after watching

When you watch an anxiety video, it’s important to pay attention to your body and watch for signs of distress, Mueller says.

“Make sure you breathe because sometimes we stop, we tense up. … Do you feel chills? You feel hot? Wet palms? Because it can be anxiety,” he said.

Other signs of distress could be trouble sleeping, changes in your diet, images playing in your mind and an increase in heart rate, Agneji adds.

And if you don’t feel anything after seeing someone get killed, that’s also an important bodily reaction.

“When you get this feeling of apathy or numbness — you don’t feel anything — it’s also a signal that something is going on,” Agyeji said.

Take care of yourself GRAPES

If you come across a nasty video with no search and no plan, Agnedji recommends remembering the self-care abbreviation GRAPES:

  • G encourages people to be gentle and compassionate towards themselves. “Don’t assume that you should just drop it if you’re watching a video and it really bothers you.”
  • R for relaxation. Being active is more than just watching TV. Practice meditation and deep breathing, take a walk outside, read or listen to soothing music. “These things will actively lower your blood pressure, your heart rate, so they really relax your body.”
  • But for achievement. Painful videos can make even the simplest tasks difficult to complete. “Over the next few days, it might be hard for you to get your entire to-do list, so when you can do those things, acknowledge it rather than beating yourself up about what you can’t do.”
  • P is for fun. “When you think about pleasure, you really have to think about using your senses to do things that give you pleasure.” It can be a special dish, scented candle, incense or aromatherapy.
  • E for exercise. It doesn’t mean going to the gym and doing an hour of cardio. “Go up the stairs, park your car a little further away so you can walk a little longer. Move your body. This triggers endorphins that effectively improve your mood.”
  • S is for communication. Isolation can make your suffering worse, so reach out to people to talk about how you are feeling. “Make sure you think about the people who generally support you and not the people who devalue you.”

Set boundaries with people who share things with you

If you’ve received an upsetting video from a friend or family member, it might be time to let them know your boundaries so they know they won’t be sending you something like this in the future.

“You should never apologize for setting boundaries. So rest easy knowing that if you’re uncomfortable, you have every right to express it,” Mueller said.

Agneggi says the sender may be desensitized or numb to the disturbing content, which is also a sign of the sender’s traumatic stress, which the sender may be unknowingly transmitting.

Mueller recommended saying something along the lines of, “I kind of made a commitment not to participate in any images or videos that make me feel uncomfortable. I would like you to stop sending me anything that is violent because it’s bad for my mental health.”

Agneggi also suggests saying, “When you send me a video like this of someone being killed, it actually gets me really excited. It’s very hard for me
process and get through my day. Could you not send me such things? I know you’re probably just trying to share information, but it’s very frustrating.”