Michael N. Searles



The term, “An Emmett Till Moment” has recently gained an amount of attention. The expression refers to the appearance of the badly mutilated body of Emmett Till in a 1955 issue of Jet Magazine. Many of us who saw that image can still draw upon our memory to bring it back to mind. While writers have pointed to the impact of this image on the black community, others have said it did little to energize the white community. According to The New York Times, no whitecentered media publications ever printed the image. Yet, TIME magazine ranked the image of Emmett Till’s body with his tear stained mother’s face standing next to him as one of the 100 Photographs that Changed the World.

The question being raised today is what impact would a photo of a disassembled body ofa9yearoldshotatRobb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas have today. Some of the bodies were unrecognizable and required identifying the shoes the children were wearing and DNA testing to prove their identity. Some have argued that lawmakers and voters do not need to see the mutilated bodies of children to understand that the U.S. has a gun crisis that only meaningful gun safety legislation can correct.

The black community was aware of the brutality and racism of the South before the murder of Emmett Till; however, the searing visual image of what racial hate could do to the human body greatly energized the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till from that point was not only the son of Mamie Till but became the son of black America. Maybe Americans today would have a different reaction to seeing the remains of a nine year old girl who only a few days before was a vital and spirited person with hopes and dreams. Paraphrasing the words of Mamie Till, “Let the people see what an AK47 can do to our children.”

Abstract references do not replace the visual images of a gunshot wound from a highpowered rifle. In 2015, Dr. David Newman, a renowned trauma surgeon and director of clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, was interviewed by The New York Times. In describing the myriad of gunshot wounds he had treated, he made a special reference to a specific gunshot wound. “But the worst is a wound from an AR-15 or AK-47 — high-muzzle velocity weapons, which impart a tremendous amount of kinetic energy into the body. Those are much more destructive. You’re looking at a wound that, externally, is two, three, four times bigger than any handgun wound. And that is reflective of the damage that happens on the inside. When a bullet from a high-muzzle velocity weapon hits the intestines, it’s like an explosion, whereas a lowmuzzle velocity can be very similar to a knife going through the intestines; there’s bleeding, but it doesn’t destroy the whole area. A high-muzzle bullet, however, destroys whole areas of body. With a bone that’s been shot with a standard-issue caliber handgun, you’ll see a break, a hole in the bone, and maybe some displacement. But a high-muzzle weapon shatters that bone into hundreds of microscopic pieces, in a way that cannot be repaired. You need to essentially clean out the bone that has been struck and remove it from the body; it’s now a worthless tissue. You can’t believe that a bullet could do this amount of damage.”

An image of this nature printed in newspapers across the country and the world would be considered by some as indecent and exploitative. The question is would it change minds, attitudes, and actions. Would the remains of one little girl remind Americans of a family member or a child down the street? While no grieving family should be asked to put their child on public display, this single image would be imprinted in the minds of those who viewed it. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” in some instances rings true. If a single photo encouraged Congress to raise the age of purchasing an AK47 style rifle from 18 to 21 and that act saved lives, it would be worth it. A family with the daring to permit the display of an unrecognizable child would experience scorn and abuse, possible rejection of family members, the loss of friends, and conceivably their ability to make a living. While all of this may be true, is it time for an Emmett Till Moment?

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