When I saw the picture in the July 13 issue of Newsweek of Neda Soltani, the 16-year-old Iranian girl who was killed by a sniper in Tehran, I was going to write an article about how the media devotes so much more time to people considered “beautiful.” While I still believe that is true and fodder for a future article, I cannot write it now.
I cannot write it because now I have seen the video of her death. The video changes everything.
A video was shot of this young girl dying in the street, blood cascading out of her eyes and mouth. The images were so graphic, so devastating, so incredibly and deeply tragic. The father’s cries of anguish were traumatic and gut-wrenching. Chills coursed through my spine.
Yet, who am I to watch this macabre scene? Who I am to witness such a private and deeply personal moment? Who am I to see a video that never should have been shot and definitely should not have been plastered all over YouTube and Facebook for the entire world to see?
We are invading people’s lives. Cameras are so ubiquitous that we consider it normal now to see every moment of people’s lives, including their moment of death. Who are we to see these things? Why should we?
According to an article in the June 22 issue of the New York Daily News, the video was posted to Facebook by an Iranian living in Holland. He said he had received the video from a doctor in Tehran who had tried to help the girl. (1)
Did Neda’s family have any say in this? Did they want their daughter to become the face of a cause? Did they want their daughter’s final moments displayed on computer screens all over the world?
And, what is up with this alleged doctor? How was it possible for him to continue filming the video while “helping” her? What kind of help did he provide exactly as she took her last few breaths?
In just a matter of hours after the video was posted, Neda became a martyr to millions throughout the world. People rallied in major American and Iranian cities, crying out for justice. The world should condemn this atrocity, but the world did not have to see it so callously and graphically displayed. The world should not have seen the video of Neda’s death without the permission of her family.
As I read the article about Neda, I could not help but think of an article I read in the April 25 issue of Newsweek about Nikki Catsouras, an 18-year-old Orange County, Calif., girl, who was killed in a catastrophic car accident on Halloween, 2006. Her parents have been fighting a losing battle ever since the accident to have nine graphic photographs of their daughter’s dead body removed from the Internet. (2)
The photographs were taken by two highway patrolmen at the scene. These personal, graphic and grizzly pictures should never have made it on the web.
I’ll never forget a story my colleague, Gene Morris, told me when we used to work together at The Miami County Republic. I mentioned how all these gawkers were at the scene of a serious car accident, getting in the way of the emergency crews.
He said he was at the scene of a fatal crash and he watched a father walk his young son (Gene guessed he was six or seven) up as close as he could to see. When an emergency crew person told the man to get back, Gene heard him reply, “I just wanted my son to see what death looks like.” How disturbing is that?
When we see these graphic images of dead and dying people, we are being just like that father. We are invading someone else’s life. We become like viewers of the freak show of death.
I understand the urge to slow down at an accident. I understand the urge to want to see. Believe me, I do. I was reporter, so I understand the urge intensely. I want to know. I also understand the feeling of “there, but for the grace of God, go I” that we all get when we see a fatal event.
But, I also will never shake the memory of the first fatal accident I covered years ago. I will never forget it. I took the pictures of the twisted hunk of metal that used to be a car, thinking there was no one in it. It was so mangled, you could not tell. I went and stood by the car and lit a cigarette, a habit I had at the time.
It is only then, as I lit my cigarette, that I noticed the dress hanging out of the bottom of the driver’s door. My stomach heaved and bile surged into my throat. I saw the baby seats in the back of the car. I saw the videos and books for little children and I knew. I knew this was their mother right there. I knew her lifeless body was just three feet away from me.
I turned and rushed away. I never looked back. I never want to again.
(1) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2009/06/21/2009-06-21_neda_young_girl_killed_in_iran.html (this is the news article…I advise against watching the video).