From Sandy Hook to Uvalde, violent images never seen

WASHINGTON — After Lenny Pozner’s six-year-old son, Noah, died in Sandy Hook, he briefly considered showing the world the damage an AR-1...


WASHINGTON — After Lenny Pozner’s six-year-old son, Noah, died in Sandy Hook, he briefly considered showing the world the damage an AR-15-style rifle had done to his child.

His first thought: “It would move some people, change minds.”

His second: “Not my child.”

The grief and anger over two horrific mass shootings in Texas and New York just ten days apart has sparked an age-old debate: Would the release of graphic images of gun violence outcomes push stranded leaders to the nation in action?

From the abolitionist movement to Black Lives Matter, from the Holocaust to the Vietnam War to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, photographs and films have laid bare the human toll of racism, authoritarianism and ruinous foreign policy. They cause public outcry and sometimes lead to change. But the potential use of these images to end the official inertia after the mass shootings presents heartbreaking new considerations for the families of the victims – many of whom reject such an idea outright.

“It is true that shocking photos of suffering sometimes leave an imprint,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, quoting the photographer. Nick Ut’s famous photo of a naked Vietnamese woman fleeing a napalm attack in 1972.

“What makes this ethical call difficult is that when you’re a photo editor, you never really know what photography is going to look exploitative, and what image is going to touch people’s consciousness and move the debate forward. ”

Major news outlets sometimes run disturbing images of dead people to illustrate the horrors of an event, such as the photography by Lynsey Addario of a mother, two children and a family friend killed in March in Irpin, Ukraine, or image of a three-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy whose body washed up in Turkey in 2015. But they rarely show human gore.

“We always try to balance the informational value of an image and its service to our readers against whether or not the image is worthy of the victims or the consideration of the families or loved ones of the people photographed” , said Meaghan Looram, the director. of photography at the New York Times. “We don’t want to withhold images that would help people understand what happened in scenarios like these, but we also don’t post purely provocative images.”

In the case of the Uvalde shooting, photojournalists were not allowed on school grounds and law enforcement did not release any crime scene images. Press photographers were only able to capture what was visible outside the school, including footage taken by Pete Luna of the Uvalde Leader News, who saw children fleeing a classroom after crossing a window. The media did not have access to footage from the aftermath of the shooting, so decisions on whether or not to release graphic images of this situation are moot.

Noah Pozner was among the first children buried after the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 first graders and six educators. Noah hid with 15 classmates in the classroom bathroom, a 4½-foot by 3½-foot space in which the shooter fired more than 80 rounds with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, killing all but the children. a.

Bullets tore through Noah’s back, arm, hand and face, destroying most of his jawbone. Mr. Pozner and Noah’s mother, Veronique De La Rosa, arranged a private open casket viewing before his funeral, which was attended by Dannel Malloy, Governor of Connecticut at the time. When Mr. Malloy arrived, Mrs. De La Rosa took him by the hand to see her son, lying in a mahogany coffin in a back room of a funeral home in Fairfield, Connecticut.

“I’m like, ‘I’m going to pass out. She’s going to show me open sores and I’m not going to handle it very well,'” Mr Malloy said in an interview for my book. “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth.”

The damage to Noah’s mouth was concealed by a square of white cloth, so Mr. Malloy was not shown raw wounds. “I wouldn’t have taken it to this level,” Ms. De La Rosa said. But the governor was “still looking at a dead child,” she said. “A child who practically the day before was running around like a little locomotive, full of life.”

After Sandy Hook, Connecticut has adopted some of the strictest gun safety measures in the country.

But there was a different outcome around the same time, when filmmaker Michael Moore proposed the release of crime scene photos by relatives of Sandy Hook victims as a way to spur political action. Sandy Hook families mistakenly believed that Mr Moore, who wrote, produced and directed the 2002 documentary, ‘Bowling for Columbine’, about the 1999 Colorado high school shooting, intended to search for photos of their children through public records requests. They lobbied the Connecticut government for strict legislation prohibiting access to victim-related documents. Photos of Sandy Hook victims are now only accessible to their families.

“If families are saying ‘I think we should show this,’ I think we should listen to them,” said Emily Bernard, author and professor of English at the University of Vermont.

“But people who have access to these photos and are willing to share them have to ask themselves, who benefits? Is this going to enlighten us or offer any solutions, or is it just awful? »

During a 2020 seminar at Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma titled “Imagining the Black Dead” Professor Bernard discussed a Civil War-era photograph of a former slave, referred to as Gordon in some historical references and Peter in others. Spread by abolitionists, the image of the bare-chested man, his back badly scarred by beatings, “was essential to the development of the campaign against slavery”, she said.

In 1955, Grandma Till-Mobley invited a photographer from Jet magazine, David Jackson, to photograph the brutalized body of her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who had been savagely beaten, shot and thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi by two white men who were promptly acquitted. The images and open casket of Emmett Till at his funeral in Chicago helped ignite the civil rights movement.

In 2020, cellphone video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, which was filmed by teenage witness Darnella Frazier, sparked global fury and some of the biggest protests in American history. But the recording also sparked heated discussion about the pervasiveness of images of violence against black people and the relatively rare depictions of white victims.

“For all the political utility of these videos and images, for all the motivational utility for getting people out on the streets or clarifying exactly what’s going on, I’m not at all sure if it’s ethical or just d ‘display these images in this way’, Jelani Cobb, writer for The New Yorker and incoming dean from the Columbia University School of Journalism, said at the Columbia seminar.

“For horrific crimes, we tend not to see white Americans displayed the same way. We may see white people overseas,” Mr. Cobb said. (Photo of a Pulitzer Prize-winning firefighter by Charles Porter IVChris Fields cradling a mortally wounded baby after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is an exception.)

Some journalists, scholars and survivors have offered to publish photos of the scenes violence, instead of the victims, as a potentially powerful but less invasive approach. In 2014, after Taliban fighters attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing at least 134 schoolchildren, news agencies published images of the school’s bloodied classrooms.

“I can imagine images that could be made without dehumanizing the victims that speak to the story of the AR-15, which is a story that has not been seen or fully told,” said Nina Berman, documentary photographer , filmmaker and Columbia journalism professor.

“The shattered windows, the shattered desks, the total destruction of the room by this weapon that is only designed to annihilate humans. This is where the political conversation is right now: why are we arming ourselves with an AR-15? Why do our legislators think this is something the Constitution ever contemplated?

But American journalists “don’t even have access to try to make these photos,” Ms Berman said. Crime scenes are quickly cordoned off and photographers banned. Police restrict access to crime scene photos sometimes for months or years after an investigation is complete. As a result, the most vivid scenes, such as the carnage after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing or the 2017 Las Vegas shootings, are often captured outdoors.

“For a culture so steeped in violence, we spend a lot of time preventing anyone from actually seeing that violence,” Ms Berman said. “There’s something else going on here, and I’m not sure it’s just that we’re trying to be sensitive.”

After the death of his son, Mr. Pozner dedicated his life to fighting conspiracy theorists who spread false claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was a government hoax, intended to promote gun control efforts. He’s not convinced that posting Noah’s photo would have changed much.

“Everything would just be amplified,” he said. “Hoaxes will have more to deny, absolutists will have more to say – and people who are traumatized by mass shootings will be even more traumatized.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: From Sandy Hook to Uvalde, violent images never seen
From Sandy Hook to Uvalde, violent images never seen
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