Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Faces of Death revisited

When I was little I was never allowed to watch the viral VHS videos entitled Faces of Death, which, reportedly (I still haven't seen them) showed real life murders, like executions, and fatal accidents caught on video. I played with three neighbor boys, all brothers, who were allowed to watch rated R movies when I wasn't, and when Faces of Death enjoyed a brief spike in popularity, I heard their vivid descriptions of the murders they witnessed while watching Faces of Death and eating popcorn. It must've been about 4th grade when those brothers would tell my brother Jason and I about firing squad executions and skydiving accidents they'd seen. They'd re-enact deadly scenes on the school playground between touch football games. I don't remember what I would say when I heard their second hand accounts but I remember knowing for sure that I didn't want to watch Faces of Death. I was too young, I knew, to handle those films that my buddies bragged about. When they weren't bragging, my neighborhood friends confessed to being haunted by nightmares of the footage. I preferred Star Wars and my lingering fear of monsters under the bed. 

Still squeamish about violence and nightmare averse, I've been watching a different kind of Faces of Death in my social media stream. The helicopter footage of the police shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa is a scene straight from a nightmare. It is an execution pulled straight from a Faces of Death editing table. The video clip left me sick, sorry, and wanting to take action. The sound of the video clip of Crutcher being shot is gruesome in its own way, even though you can't hear a gunshot. Instead, the arial footage of this black man being shot is accompanied by a white man with an Oklahoma drawl.


And the cover up is such a familiar narrative that we can hear this helicopter pilot starting the cover up story even before Terence Crutcher was shot. From his arial vantage point, a white man with a badge describes Crutcher, who had his hands in the air, as a "bad dude" who is probably "on something." The officer who shot Crutcher is being described by some in the Tulsa police and by her attorney as a "drug recognition expert." Instead of calling this murder the way we can all see it, this murder is being quickly reframed as the shooting of a "bad dude" by a "drug recognition expert."


This morning I'm still scared of monsters and I still long to hear mythical tales of good triumphing over evil. This morning the rebellion isn't a bunch of fictional characters fighting the Empire. This morning the heroes are in the streets demanding justice and risking their own health and welfare to bring murderous monsters to justice.