At Till’s funeral, his mother insisted on an open casket for her son, to in effect say to the world, “Look what they did to my boy.” Photographs of Till’s body, dressed in a suit but with a bloated, mutilated head and face, became an international spectacle, burned into the conscience of anyone who saw them. The images helped spark the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott that began three months later in December 1955. Time magazine called the image of Till’s body one of the 100 “most influential photos of all time.”
I lack the moral standing to tell a parent to accept and approve, for the greater good, the public display of photos of his or her dead child. Only they can judge the additional weight that doing so would place on them, at a time when they are already struggling with unimaginable grief. Nor do I suggest the release of any images in particular. But something graphic is required to awaken the public to the real horror of these repeated tragedies. Robb Elementary School in Uvalde is a crime scene. If there were a case to go to trial, the prosecution would have to present publicly the shocking evidence of guilt. Put another way: Why must innocent schoolchildren, for the rest of their lives, carry the vivid memories of the executions of their teachers and classmates, while federal and state lawmakers (and the adult constituents who elect them) are spared?
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