White America usually only sees its violence written so plainly on the bodies of black men in sports arenas. We only see the injuries as collateral damage, or as a single festering wound—that part of the city we don’t go to, the part of history we ignore. And Fox News usually is a core part of the apparatus that helps hide that violence—puts a sheet over the body, or dresses it up in mythology and legend. Fox News usually doesn’t show the physical toll of any of the various wars the America is engaged in, unless the injury can be used to justify continuing them.
But in that live shot from Baltimore, because of Freddie Gray, the unblinking eye was forced to see. The raw evidence of Keith Watson’s bloody torso was right there, itself prompted by the soul-sickening immediacy of Gray’s own injuries.
To be shot to death, in America today, is a tragically clinical media event. It is too common to inspire visceral reaction. It is too ingrained in a narrative of justified force—cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad guys—to summon immediate sympathy.
For white Americans, dying by gunshot means you must have been doing something wrong. (That almost 90 percent of adult white male firearm deaths are suicides complicates this comforting thought, so it has to be ignored.)
But a severed spine. A broken neck. The mere repetition of those words conjures queasy fidgeting, and there is no other way to describe what happened to Freddie Gray.