In Protest Of Black Death: Why I Can’t Watch The First 48 Again
As I stared at the young man’s body, legs splayed, the only things sticking out from underneath the yellow cloth placed over him, I sensed a feeling I hadn’t been witness to in some time — a gut-wrenching discomfort. And just like that, mood turned upside down, I turned off the television and decided to go for a run.
Sprinting through Prospect Park, acknowledging the Black men and women I saw running, full of and enjoying life, I thought about the body I had just seen on my TV screen nearly an hour earlier. “I can’t watch The First 48 ever again,” I said to myself as a sense of sadness moved through me. It didn’t come over me because I was sad to miss out on the show. Instead, I felt this way because it made me think of all the young people, mostly Black, whose bodies I’d seen after breathing their last breath on the show. Human being I never really thought twice about before. I had become desensitized to all the Black death I was seeing. In the park, surrounded by life, the reality of that conclusion made me feel terrible.
I have been watching The First 48 since college, and was so intrigued by the cases that I could breeze through marathons. It was so good to me that I had to tell someone else, so I passed it on to my mom. She’s an Investigation Discovery (ID) channel fanatic and studied criminal justice in school. She liked it, for a little while. Then she told me, maybe less than a year into watching, that she had had enough.
“I don’t watch that anymore,” she said as I inquired about new episodes. “I don’t like that they don’t really cover the bodies. Those were real people. I’m not comfortable seeing so many Black people like that, young people especially.”
I kept watching. I even put my fiancé on. And there we would sit on Saturday nights, watching The First 48 and maybe taking a break from a marathon to see the latest Lockup episode before flipping back. I went from Black death to Black incarceration like it was nothing.
I could recount stories of girlfriends stabbing their boyfriends after a fight and the perpetrator not knowing they actually died. Stepsons accidentally shooting their stepfathers. Men caught on camera running through the streets with machine guns right before a retaliatory killing. Angry ex-boyfriends murdering the mother of their child in front of the kid. I could recount all these episodes without feeling anything. I just really enjoyed following the cases, trying to understand the girlfriends who would hide murderous boyfriends, attempting to feel something for teenagers who got caught up with the wrong crowds.
But on that Monday night, I had enough. As I looked at yet another young Black man dead on the street, something jumped within me. I thought about what my mom said and felt sick. Those were real people.
And I also considered my hypocrisy. I didn’t want to watch the graphic videos of men being gunned down by police, like Terence Crutcher, but wouldn’t bat an eye at the body of a teen who barely got to live, laying in a pool of blood, as though his death wasn’t real because it was on a TV show.
I considered the fact that all I could do was shake my head but not feel pain every week I would find out a few people were killed, and dozens of others were shot during the weekend that had just passed in my beloved Chicago.
I considered the fact that maybe someone heard about my brother’s death years ago and likely felt the same sense of detachment, despite the fact that he was deeply loved and is still sorely missed.
I considered the fact that I pick and choose when I want to be hurt by such losses of life, despite the fact that they all have an impact on my psyche. Enough of an impact to make me flee from social media instead of facing the reality and discomfort of what people are trying to show me: continued injustice.
More than anything, I considered the fact that through all of the images that have been broadcast in media and on social media, I became numb to the death of my own people. I could look at some death as a form of entertainment and the rest as a cruel reality that I realized I wasn’t getting enraged enough about, but rather, would run from. Maybe that was my way of trying to sustain my mind. Unbeknownst to me, I couldn’t run from it. That’s what drove that feeling within the pit of my stomach when I was standing in front of the TV. It was my heart finally feeling the effects of all the things I had been seeing and absorbing over the years.
I’m sure it sounds petty, me saying that I’m done with a simple TV show. However, to me, it’s my own mild form of protest. I can’t stop these crimes from happening — the ones on reality TV or the ones in reality. But I can choose not to be a spectator to, and in turn, a supporter of Black death, as though there’s nothing wrong with it. Because as mama said, those were real people, too. And all of them deserved better.