Jeh Charles Johnson. homeland security secretary, 2013/2017
After the mass murder of children in Uvalde, Tex., America desperately needs to bring the true horror of mass shootings home — through pictures. We need an Emmett Till moment.
I am surprised that when I make this reference, multiple generations of Americans, White and Black, know what I mean. For those who don’t: Emmett Till was a 14-year-old Black youth who dared to say something sassy to an adult White woman in Mississippi in August 1955. For this “crime,” Till was abducted, tortured, shot in the head and dumped in a river by two White men who were later acquitted by an all-White Mississippi jury.
At Till’s funeral, his mother insisted on an open casket for her son, to in effect say to the world, “Look what they did to my boy.” Photographs of Till’s body, dressed in a suit but with a bloated, mutilated head and face, became an international spectacle, burned into the conscience of anyone who saw them. The images helped spark the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott that began three months later in December 1955. Time magazine called the image of Till’s body one of the 100 “most influential photos of all time…”
Certain images do more than speak a thousand words. Some actually reveal to us what no words can adequately convey. Images have the capacity to shock the conscience into action, galvanize a population, and alter the course of history…
Someone will have to say, “YES” to this request. Let the coppers release the worst images. Let our “Free Press” have a chance at showing these pictures to the nation, to the whole world. If we can’t bear to look at them, maybe we’ll work harder at stopping these crimes against humanity.