Alton Sterling & the New American Snuff Film

Modern media profiting from the films of police murdering people of color

Thaddeus Howze
Jul 6, 2016 · 6 min read
Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted — Washington Post

An evidence photo shows a Chevy Malibu that Cleveland police officers riddled with bullets after a chase that ended in the deaths of an unarmed man and woman. Officer Michael Brelo, who investigators say fired 34 shots at the car and then climbed on the hood and fired 15 more through the windshield, faced trial on two counts of voluntary manslaughter. He was fired but acquitted.

Anton Sterling

A snuff film — or snuff movie — is “a movie in a purported genre of movies in which an actor is actually murdered or commits suicide”. It may include a motion picture genre that depicts the actual murder of a person or people, without the aid of special effects, for the express purpose of financial exploitation, but that detail is extraneous, so long as it is “circulated amongst a jaded few for the purpose of entertainment”. Some filmed records of executions and murders exist, but these were not staged for commercial purposes.

I had planned to come here and tell people why they should recognize the death of Anton Sterling as a tragedy, but to avoid the video of his being executed. Not because it isn’t wrong. It is at least in its own way a good thing the event is partially recorded. Too many young Black men die anonymous deaths at the hands of the police where the police are the only ones who know what happened because the dead can’t speak (and tell you how they might have come to this unfortunate and usually fatal end.)

I had planned to tell you the idea of America turning the deaths of Black men and women into snuff films where we are privy to their demise no matter how terrible, that there are unintended consequences to such films especially being spread through the mainstream media. I was going to remind you that nearly a thousand times this year, a police officer has shot a civilian.

The shooting of Walter Scott

I had intended to talk about how the media profits from producing such footage because it brings eyes to the television and online media outlets which translates into money for their company through advertising and click-throughs. Though a life has ended, the media can milk it for hours, days, weeks, depending just how high quality the snuff film was.

I had planned to talk about how this particular shooting echoes another meme I discovered when James Rhodes was killed by Marvel comics recently. The excuse for his death was the need to evince an intense emotional response from Tony Stark and Carol Danvers, two white characters in the story who Brian Michael Bendis felt needed an emotional and irrational reason to do engage in another hero-on-hero slugfest event. If you’re white, it seems perfectly reasonable: #blackdeathsforwhitetears.

Except this hashtag would read: #blackdeathsforwhitemedia, and the emotion hoped for would be fear. Creating a form of socially-accepted terrorism not seen since the 1960s. (Feel free to share the hashtag, by the way.) On the subject of life imitating art, I can only surmise, like in comics, or anywhere else: #blacklivesdontmatter.

I had intended to talk in great detail about how this travesty will continue because it has another chilling effect: It causes terror in the citizenry, particularly in the Black citizens of the United States who learn their lives are always at risk, they are always in danger, they are always fearful of the random act of sanctioned police violence always just a second away. In addition to the growing racial tensions in the US, now even calling the police may not be in our best interest.

I had intended to mention this was a form of terrorism at a scale unseen since the secret police of the Geheime Staatspolizei (the Gestapo of World War II infamy) or the Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (better known as the KGB). Both organizations were known for the tendency to make people who were considered political or social dissidents or undesirables to “disappear.” Maybe they were tortured, maybe they were killed. Most of the time they were never seen or heard from by their friends ever again.

I was going to point out, today, the police of the United States skip the disappearing part and just kill Black citizens right where they find them. No need to pretend they have rights. No need to pretend anyone will feel bad (at the precinct) now that the person is dead.

I surely would have mentioned, in most cases, the police officers get a nice two week leave (with pay — no need for them to be uncomfortable, right?) and then they go right back to work. In most cases, they are acquitted, assuming they go to trial at all.

Instead: I am going to leave you with an impassioned note from a friend of mine named Matthew Elliot, someone who speaks with a fire and clarity, right now, I am not eloquent enough to reach without screaming and never stopping. Take it away, Matthew…

A Cog in the Machine of White Supremacy

by Matthew Elliot

“I wish I had the privilege of only sharing ‘positive’ news. Unfortunately, that luxury escapes those of us who had the nerve to be born as people of dusky hue.

When you wake up every goddamn day as a Black person and are forced to read about (or, even worse, be inundated by auto-play snuff footage of) yet another another #AltonSterling, another apparently disposable yet utterly indispensable young life snuffed out by racist state violence, reduced to a mere hashtag because summary execution by cops is just the price of keeping society secure or something, when white privilege is used as a gilded cage to protect delicate bourgeois sensibilities from the ugly, inevitable consequences of endless demands for ephemeral, indefinable ‘safety’ (despite data showing everything is a-ok — if you’re White) without calling for the necessary vast, across the board structural reform that might actually do something to bridge inequity AND make everybody ‘safe’…

When this traumatic breakfast of champions is embedded as part of your morning routine — shower, shit, shave, mourn the loss of yet another person of colour for the capital crime of existing while black — it’s really, really fucking hard to give a good god-damn about trying to keep things sunny side up.

So stick your head in the ground if you must. But stay the fuck out of my way while you strike an ostrich pose. This is life and fucking death — an actually-existing existential threat presented by those who purport to ‘serve and protect’ — for us non-white peeps.

Want to see sunshine and rainbows flying out of my backside (and/or newsfeed)? Stop enabling state murder of black people, of Indigenous communities (and on and on) through blithe, banal indifference, and start doing your part as allies and fellow fucking citizens. Until then, you’re just another cog in the machine of White Supremacy.


Refuse to watch the films of our brothers being killed. Allow no one to profit from our deaths.

Let me save you from yourselves, you puppies who will most assuredly shout about the sweeping generalizations present in this missive.


Felis Silvestra Sinister, Esq.

Thaddeus Howze

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