Oct 6, 2009

The moral line between dereliction and documentation

by Mattison Brooks

There is sometimes a fuzzy line between interference and observation for journalists. In the case of documentary filmmaking or investigative reporting, they can be one and the same. But is there a line that needs to be crossed when lives are in real danger?

As a human being, it is our personal duty to defend others in need. But as a professional journalist, intervention can alter the flow of a story that is being covered. This was most recently displayed by video footage of a gang-related street fight in Chicago, where Derrion Albert, 16, was killed, according to CNN. He was a student on his way home from school.

The footage is graphic, but contains roughly two minutes of a completely unorganized brawl, during which several dozen people are wildly swinging at each other. All the while, the cameraman is heard exclaiming surprise. At one point, a gang member swings a large wooden two-by-four at Albert’s head, knocking him to the ground. Like sharks smelling blood, multiple attackers swarmed Albert as he lay motionless on the ground. The cameraman kept filming as someone suspected to know the victim ran toward the fallen student pleading with him to get up.

The footage is upsetting to say the least. Film of a recorded death is not something that humanity needs to witness. And while the cameraman stood by and did nothing to quell the violence, he recorded the event as evidence and history. That in itself is a service, one that the courts are taking full advantage of now, according to CNN.com.

Yet the question still lingers: should the cameraman have intervened? Would he have saved Albert’s life, or been killed too? Would the footage have been destroyed and no witnesses or aggressors brought in for questioning as a result?

It is impossible to know.

However, it is extremely important to recognize that the man with the camera was not a journalist or paid professional. Still, he provided a glimpse into something that justice can take advantage of, where it may have not been able to before. That is what journalists are really supposed to do.

It is the duty of a journalist to let the world witness events through unfettered eyes, even if those events are horrifying is horrible. And through that witnessing, the world can see the truth, and justice can be brought forward, much like it is going to be through this unfortunate situation.

Contact Mattison Brooks at embrooks@liberty.edu.

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