ROLAND S. MARTIN: America Should See The Newtown Carnage

By Roland S. Martin

“One of these mothers from Connecticut should do an Emmett Till moment; show the picture of their child dead in the classroom.”

That’s a text I received earlier this week from my TV One show producer. When I got it, a chill immediately went through my body just thinking about the possibility of seeing the carnage in such a photo.

When taping this week’s edition of my show, “Washington Watch,” Sirius/XM Radio host Joe Madison somberly said the same thing. Joe remarked that Emmett’s mother, Mamie, insisted on an open casket for her son so the world could see what was done to him by racists in Mississippi.

Many Americans may not even remember Emmett Till, a precocious 14-year-old black teenager from Chicago who went to visit his family in Mississippi. He allegedly flirted with a white woman in a store, and the woman’s husband and his brother later went to the home where Till was staying, pulled him out of his bed, took him somewhere and beat him to a pulp, gouged out his eye, blew the back of his head away with a gun, attached a cotton gin with barbed wire around his neck and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River.

When his bloated and disfigured body was recovered, it was unrecognizable. He was identified based on a ring he always wore.

When Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender newspaper published his battered face on their covers, it sent shock waves throughout America, and especially in the black community. The brutality of lynchings were talked about and covered, yet for the world to witness with its own eyes the end result of vicious bigotry, it forced the nation to examine its conscience.

“There was just no way I could describe what was in that box,” Mamie said. “No way. And I just wanted the world to see.”

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting, we have seen numerous photos of the beautiful, smiling faces of the 20 children and six adults slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The images we have become accustomed to include them singing at a piano, sporting the gear of a favorite sports team and others. When we think of them being memorialized it’s in the context of teddy bears, candles and flowers.

Americans want to remember them as vibrant and fun-loving children, but will that actually shake the conscience of America to do something about how they were gunned down in the classroom?

What if one of the mothers or fathers of the Newtown 20 demanded that police give them a crime scene photo of their child and they chose to show it to the world? Can you imagine a modern day Mamie Till Mobley, wracked with pain but filled with resolve to show the nation so they could bear witness to what hate did to their child?

I can tell you that I’ve talked to numerous black men and women who to this day remember August 28, 1955, the day Till was murdered. The image of his face has been seared into their brain for life as a result of seeing that photo.

Is that what Americans need today? Maybe so.

For too many of us, we hear about gun violence, we talk about it, we mourn it, but to be honest, we’ve never witnessed it.

Our senses have been dulled to the real world carnage. We demand that news organizations not show American troops, or even the enemy, lying dead in war zones. Even when our troops returned home in flag-draped coffins, the Bush administration forbade it from being covered by the media. The Los Angeles Times was ripped by readers for showing the bloody, lifeless body of Ambassador Christopher Stevens being dragged out of a building in Benghazi, Libya.

What does that say about America? Oh, let’s talk about tragedy, but please, please, please don’t show the real results.

We love blood and guts in our movies, preferring exploding heads, chests ripped open by gunfire. We adore the big explosions, bodies flying through the air, buildings tumbling down. We’ll drop millions of dollars collectively on movies and video games to see the carnage, but God forbid we are forced to see it in real life.

That’s America. The land of make believe. Show us the fake stuff, but let’s retreat into a fetal position and scream, “No! No! No!” when forced to see the real thing.

When my producer sent me that text, I recoiled at even the mere mention of seeing with my own eyes the real life results of what a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle could do to a 6-year-old body. But maybe I should see it. Maybe Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association should have to answer to such a photo when he is interviewed.

Maybe if a modern day Mamie Till met with members of Congress and forced them to look at a photo of her baby, then we would see some political courage.

Maybe if all Americans had to bear witness to such a photo, we would stop ignoring the violence equivalent to the Newtown massacres that is happening in Chicago, New Orleans and other cities across this country.

Gun violence is a national epidemic. It affects all ages and races. Maybe it’s time for America to see the results of what our gun culture has wrought. Enough with our delicate sensibilities. If we truly want to confront the problem, then we’d better have the guts to see the problem.

When we’ve had such tragedies in the past, there was always an initial outcry, and then we’d settle back into our routines.

When that image of Emmett Till was shown to the world, it stirred up such a burning desire for justice inside African-Americans that it was a part of the foundation of the civil rights movement. Just one year later the Montgomery bus boycott began, and many African-Americans will tell you that Till’s gruesome lynching was the catalyst.

Till’s death was the moment that led to a movement, and 57 years later, we still talk about his death, largely because of that photo.

Maybe the only way Newtown never leaves our conscience and fades away like Aurora or Columbine is if we have to look at the results of the tragedy to ensure that this moment leads to a transformational movement.

  • mTon23

    Fascinating article!!

  • gavin

    Great article… I would love to see someone have the courage to discuss this further

  • I agree wholeheartedly. Well written and though out. Thank you.

    • mikeinnc232

      Ella, it is like Thomas Jefferson said, “Beat your guns into plows, and plow for those that didn’t”

  • Nature

    I absolutely do not want to see any such photo, for any reason. I am happy to support reasonable bans on automatic assault weapons. I don’t need to see the mangled body of a baby to move me to action.

    • mikeinnc232

      There are no automatic assault weapons sold in America. There are semi-automatic rifles that are made to look like assault weapons, but they are not!

  • PT Jewell

    As usual,you have outdone yourself. If America was shown the crime scene,we would be more proactive verses reactive to the carnige caused by mental illness and guns.

  • hankusmc

    Nope, I disagree with you on this one Roland.

  • Laila

    I definitely don’t need to see the body to be moved, because I am aware of what guns can do and have a 5 year old. The world has changed a lot in 50 years and yes some issues remain but social media and journalism have taken major steps. I don’t know what the answer is though …

  • rporth

    So, how about pics of the 3000 children murdered A DAY in the ‘safest place ‘ of all – the mother’s womb via abortion… Where is the outcry on that?

    ……… Crickets…….

    • mikeinnc232

      Liberals always contradict themselves!!!!

  • Joe D

    The carnage wasn’t caused by an object, the carnage was caused by another person. We need to ban maniacs. Timothy McVeigh caused more carnage with fertilizer, do you blame the fertilizer or McVeigh? Unfortunately this latest lunatic killed himself so we don’t have the opportunity to grab him, hold him out and blame him as the culprit. Instead we blame the objects left behind. This

    anthropomorphism replaces the actual guilty person. In a bizarre way it also serves to remove blame from the actual guilty party.

    • cheeriogirl

      And yet, if there were no guns present that day in Sandy Hook, and just the “maniac” as you refer to him, how many of those precious six year olds would still be alive?

  • I agree with everything you said. Remember, if you don’t stand for something; you will fall for anything.

  • Neil

    I have this debate with my girlfriend all the time. I tell her I am tired of the argument that people kill people, not guns.

    Yes, she is right. BUT! My argument is guns make it easy to do it and allows maniacs to do it quickly.

    It serves no purpose for the general public to have access to military grade weapons. You want to defend yourself, if it makes you feel safer to carry a weapon, you carry a pistol.

    Could you imagine what our streets would look like if everyone carried around fully automatic weapons? I don’t care to live in that place.

    • mikeinnc232

      No one carries around fully automatic weapons now.

    • mikeinnc232

      By the way, 95% of gun crime is committed with hand guns!

  • Although everyone may not agree on the method of getting people to talk about this, we as a nation need to have this discussion. We must come together in our respective communities and work TOGETHER on a plausible solution. Don’t expect politics to solve our problems.

  • LPChi

    I have to say, as a white woman in her 30’s, I think about Emmett Till everyday. Watched documentary in high school and still traumatized, almost 20 years later. Mrs. Till’s decision will make me think of her son for the rest of my life, and I will honor his memory in my heart. Something needs to be done to shock this country into making changes, but not many would be able to emotionally handle seeing photos of murdered children, including myself.

  • cheeriogirl

    I agree. This would give a “face” to the CONSEQUENCES of assault rifles and high capacity clips, that the NRA and many in the GOP could no longer deny.

  • mikeinnc232

    It appears that Mr. Martin is doing the same thing the Piers Morgan has been doing, Standing on the graves of dead Newtown children! No one hates that these young children were killed by a mentally ill person more than law abiding people who believe in the Constitution. Unfortunately, Morgan and Martin are putting their soapbox on top of these children’s headstones to push there liberal agenda of trying to overthrow the second amendment of our Constitution. They should be ashamed of themselves!

  • Food for thought!

    Just Playing Devil’s Advocate here…. Maybe the reason why
    we haven’t seen any actual crime scene photos is that they don’t exist. Maybe
    they don’t need to show the full all out blood and guts of the crime scene. How
    about bullet holes, or expended casings or even a color picture or even a
    different picture of the so called shooter. Maybe a picture of the front door
    to the school that he shot his way thru. This shooter by the way who had swat
    like precision and aim claiming 26 victims and “1” wounded. Who was the one
    wounded by the way. I haven’t seen that person interviewed or their story told
    or even when their book and movie of the week is coming out. And there have
    been so many inconsistencies with the different stories put out by the media,
    why are they no attempts to clear some of them up. I’m not saying Sandy Hook didn’t
    happen what I am saying is allot just doesn’t add up. Come on people stop being
    sheep. Demand real answers, not the BS the media has been feeding us.