With a saddened heart while holding anger and outrage, I write this message to you after once again, the world, our nation, and the Black community witness another occurrence of police brutality against a Black male. On January 7, 2023, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten by five police officers from the Memphis Police Department during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. Officers initially stated the Tyre was pulled over for alleged reckless driving, but police investigation has found no such evidence to substantiate the claim. Tyre Nichols was hospitalized in critical condition from his injuries and died three days later. The preliminary autopsy results found that Tyre suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
Over this past weekend, the City of Memphis and the nation awaited and braced for the release of the police video footage. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis prepared us before the video's release that we would see were “acts that defy humanity,” “incomprehensible,” and “unconscionable.” Unfortunately, chief Davis’ depiction was accurate. I watched a horrendous “prison yard” style beat down of a young man who looked like me, who was just trying to get home. A young Black man that was met with immediate aggression. A young Black man not “fleeing from police" but running for his life. A young Black man being bullied by officers much larger and stronger than himself. I witnessed a complete disregard for another human being.
Sadly, the video and news of another Black man dying at the hands of police was not something new to me and is within the historical memory of the Black community. What surprised me was that the violence perpetrated on Tyre Nichols was inflicted by five Black officers who looked like him. This is evidence in my mind that a “historically biased culture of policing” puts Black people at risk regardless of an officer’s race. As Dr. Karen Johnson stated in her statement on Tyre Nichols’ Murder, “It’s time for us all to recognize that this is systemic.”
In the age of police bodycam footage to help bring accountability for officer actions, officers across our nation have developed a system of “workarounds” such as turning off or covering the bodycam. During the arrest of Tyre Nichols, officers ordered 71 commands, some conflicting and confusing, making it impossible to meet the officer’s instructions. Solely listening to the audio of the officer’s bodycam would undoubtedly suggest that the individual is not complying and actively resisting officers, which in many cases is all that is needed for police to use and justify brutality. When I watched the video, it was clear that officers were not interested in diffusing the situation. Do not get me wrong, police officers have a challenging job, and I am grateful for their service, but this young Black father did not deserve to die from an “unwarranted” traffic stop.
Watching the video of Tyre Nichols brought back the memory of when I was attending college at the University of Minnesota, and I witnessed the video of the beating of Rodney King beating. The Rodney King video and trial marked a critical time in history as video evidence was finally available of what the Black community had claimed for years. Finally, the American people, particularly White-America, could witness the brutality with their own eyes and judge for themselves. Without the citizen’s video of King’s beating, much of America would have continued to doubt and label the Black communities' claims as exaggerated. Yet once again, thank goodness there was a street camera that could capture the incident from another perspective to give a complete picture of what really occurred. Would we be having this conversation if the sky cam had not caught the video footage of Mr. Nichols’ beating?
Have we learned nothing from Rodney King, Michael Brown, George Floyd, and other events of police brutality in this country? On a positive note, I noticed something different in the recent Tyre Nichols case. I saw a police chief that spoke with transparency and humility to the Memphis community and the nation. I saw swift accountability taken against the officers and medical officials involved. I saw a tactical plan to release the video and prepare for the potential civil unrest from communities across the nation. In addition, I saw a police department take proactive steps to implement change by disbanding the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) special unit.
My heart goes to the family of Tyre Nichols, the community of Memphis, and citizens in this country deeply affected by these events and actions. Watching the video is difficult and can evoke fear and anxiety, which, historically speaking, have been purposely used against the Black community. No community should live in fear of those that are sworn to protect us. Policing in America varies from state to state, city to city, some better, and some worse. The great state of Washington is not immune to occurrences of police misconduct, and I feel we have an opportunity to do better and be better. I share my thoughts and feelings as a son of a retired police officer that served 42 years.
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