I’ve heard that some of the parents in Uvalde are planning to have open caskets at the funerals for their little ones. I cannot imagine the kind of agony these families are going through. And also for the families and loved ones of the teachers who were killed, and one husband dying of a heart attack from grief only days later, leaving four children.
The decision to have an open casket reminded me of Emmett Till, the 14 year old Black boy who was tortured and lynched by a white mob in Mississippi in 1955. The funeral director was shocked that his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, wanted an open casket due to the extensive mutilation of Emmett’s body. But we should all be grateful to her for doing so. In this act of immense courage and agonizing grief, she showed the world the barbarity of racism and its inherent violence.
We don’t know how graphic images would be of Uvalde’s fallen children. We don’t know if the parents would want them to be made public either. And the choice should ultimately lie with them. But images have power. Photographs of mass lynching across the US bore witness to the horrendous racist slaughter taking place. Photos of the war against Vietnam helped to galvanize the global antiwar movement. Photographs of rivers on fire helped people see what industry was doing to the environment.
So perhaps it is time we stop worrying more about people being triggered by upsetting images than the circumstances that made those images possible in the first place. Perhaps a desensitized, atomized, demoralized and increasingly detached public is shown crime scenes, so that real outrage can make legislators and profiteers shake in their boots, instead listening to more of their empty platitudes.
Of course, any step like this must be done with the utmost respect and care. It isn’t for ghoulish pleasure, although there will always be monsters out there who will relish in them. It is for public record and public reckoning. Facing societal demons isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want any meaningful change to happen.
Kenn Orphan, June 2022
Title photo is grief in Uvalde by Billy Calzada/The San Antonio Express-News via AP