The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 18 No. 3 (Fall 2016)

Simply Seeing

B.D. McClay

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Fall 2016

(Volume 18 | Issue 3)

Of all our senses, vision is the one most overburdened with meaning. Seeing is linked to rational judgment, yet also to self-deception: Descartes fretted over the stick that seems straight in the air, bent in the water. Seeing allows us into a shared world, but also creates doubt that anyone sees precisely your world. Justice is traditionally blind because it is impartial; blindness can also stand for willful stupidity. Leaning on both of these meanings, movements attempting to draw attention to injustice or suffering often employ the language of visibility. Invisible People, for instance, is a charity that conducts video interviews with the homeless. “Some content may be offensive,” its website warns. “Our hope is you’ll get mad enough to do something.” People just don’t see how bad things are; if they did, well…

The hope of making people mad enough to do something is also behind many of the videos of killings by police that have been posted online in recent years. In 2011, for instance, a homeless man named Kelly Thomas was beaten to death by six policemen, and a thirty-four-minute video of the encounter was captured by a security camera and subsequently uploaded to YouTube by the Orange County Register. Today, even casual users of Facebook or Twitter can watch a video of someone dying before even realizing what they are looking at.

“Do something” often means pushing for police to wear body cameras. If videos document the problem, maybe videos can also be the solution. The thinking goes that body cameras—like the dashcam before them—will provide a deterrent to the use of violent force, and, after the fact, evidence when police are charged with misconduct. “Police officers, just like everyone else, behave differently when they know they are being watched,” argued the author of a 2015 op-ed on the website of the American Constitution Society. “It follows that officers would be much less likely to engage in abusive, racially discriminatory, or harassing behavior when they are on heightened notice of possibly being held to account.”

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Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 18.3 (Fall 2016). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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