After two white men beat, mutilated, stripped him naked, and shot him, Emmett Till’s body was weighted down and dropped into the Tallahatchie River where it floated for three days.When the authorities found his body, it was bloated and nearly unrecognizable.
I can only imagine what his mother, Mamie Till, was thinking. She fought to have her son returned to Chicago to be buried at home. When his body arrived, she opened the casket to identify her son. Who can blame her? Doubts about the identity of the body in the river surfaced soon after it was found. Rumors spread that Till had been taken back to Chicago to avoid trouble. Was she hoping against reason that the rumors were true and her son wasn’t dead? Did she need visual confirmation that Emmett wasn’t coming home?
I can only imagine what his mother was thinking. She demanded an open casket funeral for Emmett so everyone could see what they had done to her beautiful son, only 14 years old. Was it tradition? Was it hope for a grief shared? Or was it anger? Forcing the world to reckon with their sins?
Either way, pictures of Emmett Till’s funeral were published in newspapers around the nation, igniting the first Civil Rights Movement and propelling the conversation of white brutality in the south onto a national stage.
Over the last year of my life, video footage of black men’s deaths at the hands of the police has found its way into my newsfeed. Facebook’s instant play video feature means that I don’t even have a choice whether or not to click on the link.
I watched Eric Garner die. I watched Tamir Rice killed seconds after the police got out of their car. I watched Keith Scott killed in his own yard. And I watched Terence Crutcher die next to his stalled truck.
I watch and I question why I am watching. Am I numbing myself to death? I wonder if these videos have less impact because we watch characters die in films. I wonder how we can keep watching while doing nothing and I worry our nation is approaching a breaking point. I watch and I pray that we will be forgiven for our complacency, for our failure to mourn with those who mourn. I pray that God’s justice, which is mercy, will overwhelm the injustice of our justice system.