One of the most haunting photographs that I’ve ever seen is the classic photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated and disfigured body. Till was a fourteen year old black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
While visiting his uncle, Till was from Chicago, he was abducted at gun point one night by two white men. Allegedly, Till had spoken to or whistled at a white woman a few days before.
Till’s horribly disfigured body was eventually found tied to a cotton gin fan in the Tallahatchie River. He had been beaten, had one of his eyes gouged out and was shot through the head.
When Till’s body was eventually returned to his mother in Chicago she insisted on an open casket funeral. She wanted the whole world to see the brutality of her son’s death.
In the end the two men who were accused of murdering Till, Roy Bryant and John William “J. W.” Milam, were acquitted by an all-white, beer-drinking jury. In 1956, both Bryant and Milam confessed to the murder in an interview with Look magazine.
Till’s mother was right. The gruesome image of her fourteen year old son brought national and international attention to the plight of Mississippi blacks. It also brought much deserved scorn and indignation on the State of Mississippi and its “judicial system.”
Recently, a similar photo has emerged. That of a homeless man named Kelly Thomas who was beaten to death by California police officers. Only recently has the video and audio of that event been made available to the public.
It has taken me almost two weeks to gather the emotional strength to watch that disturbing video. Watching the merciless beating death of a mentally ill man is difficult. The audio even more so. Thomas’s cries for help and his pleading for the brutality to stop went unanswered.
Perhaps, like Emmett Till, the death, and photographs, of Thomas’s murder will bring much needed attention to the plight of homeless folk who are far too often brutalized by the authorities that are charged with protecting them.
Watch the video with caution.