Police brutality and “Torture Letters”

Content Warning: This column discusses police brutality

The multiple upheavals in America over the past year, triggered by human rights abuses such as the murder of George Freud, are nothing new to anyone. Modern media such as the Internet, television, and newspapers are rapidly filling up with graphic violence from one title to another. The constant consumption of such content reduces a person’s sensitivity to this kind of news, which is called “compassion fatigue”.

A similar phenomenon touched me not so long ago when my hometown was overflowing with graphics of police brutality and counter-protests. The answer to this fatigue for me was Lawrence Ralph’s “Letter of Torture” documenting police brutality in Chicago. The emphasis in the documentary is not on the content, but on the narrative story from the first person, which rivets the viewers and puts them in the victim’s place. This perspective allows you to feel the brutality of the police on your own skin, and makes compelling moral demands.

This approach to reflecting reality relieves the fatigue of empathy by adapting the aesthetics to the target audience, offering a new perspective. The film was published in The New York Times in a narrative writing style that made rich and educated audiences empathize with Ralph’s suffering, not annotations. The victims of violence are not abstract “they” but the same people, the readers themselves. This made it possible to express such cruelty in a more human way, to believe that this is happening to them, their friends and loved ones.

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