I winced when I saw the wooden railroad plank being smacked against Derrion Albert’s head. My stomach turned when I saw the five other young black men stomp on Albert. By the end, my eyes welled up with tears when I realized what I saw: A 16-year-old child beat to death. No doubt it was difficult for me to get through the entire 2:27 of footage, even with parts blurred out, and I’m sure it will be difficult for others to watch as well, but the fact remains: We need to watch. We need to watch and not turn away because as history has taught us, it’s the only way we’re going to learn.
Back in the 1960s, we only needed to see footage of black protesters being beaten, hosed down and attacked by police dogs once to understand how bad racism was down South.
Back in 1992, we only needed to see the video of Rodney King getting beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department once to understand the boys in blue aren’t always on the right side of the law, even if a judge says otherwise.
Now, in 2009, many of us need to see the video of 16-year-old Derrion Albert being beat to death at least once to understand it’s no longer just the police and white people of whom we need to be afraid. It’s also each other.
Call it sad or call it a rude awakening, but throughout our nation’s history, the violent underbelly that has existed in the black community, self-inflicted or not, has always been a dish best served cold, right in our face. Think Emmett Till’s mother choosing to make her son’s funeral open casket so the whole world could see the horrific damage he suffered at the hands of ugly racism.
In 1971, Gil Scott-Heron famously proclaimed, “The revolution will not be televised,” and that may be true, but reasons for revolution have popped up on our idiot boxes for years. Now they’re beginning to show up on our computers where today’s younger generation is spending a lot of their time.
Look closely not at the boob tube, but YouTube. Put down that petition to boycott whatever shows the geniuses at Black Entertainment Television and Viacom have cooked up for the fall season, and instead, watch what young black people are doing to entertain themselves on their own video cameras. Some of it is fun, good-natured kids just being kids. But a lot of it is, dare I say, Derrion Albert-like—brutal, sick, and dare I say, black.
On the World Wide Web, all the violent and disturbing images parents and government tried to keep away from the eyes and ears of children over the years is becoming undone, which is why so many people have been able to see what happened to Albert. But maybe that’s for the better. Sure, it may be disturbing to think some people are not watching Albert’s beating for anything more than sick entertainment, but we must also remember that people can learn from this. For this generation, the Derrion Albert tragedy is to them what Rodney King was to mine, and the videos of sit-in protests and marches were to the generation before me—a harsh reminder we need to wake up.
So let the video of Derrion Albert’s life-ending beating get as many views as the video of Kanye West jumping on stage in the middle of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech (as I write this, this one currently has 1,959,026 views). Let #derrionalbert be a trending topic on Twitter and make sure it stays there as long as #musicmonday or #jayz. Blog about Derrion Albert like you would your own relationship woes, remix the video of his beating by layering it over Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” to drive the weight of Albert’s loss home, or get a camera, record your own thoughts about this horrific tragedy and in the words of YouTube, “broadcast yourself.” But most importantly, watch the video. It hurts, it’s disgusting, but it might be the first step we need to avoid seeing a sequel anytime soon.
Jozen Cummings is a former editor at VIBE and lives in Harlem. His new blog is Untiligetmarried.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.