Tyre Nichols’ mother is struggling to deal with her son’s horrific death at age 29, and the fact that five of the Memphis police officers accused of assaulting him are also Black has made her sadness much worse. Because they are Black and are aware of our struggles, RowVaughn Wells said in an interview last week, “It makes it even tougher to stomach.”
Black activists and supporters of police reform are wrestling with the extent of institutional racism in policing due to the race of the five police officers implicated in the Nichols slaying. Nichols passed away three days after being kicked, punched, and hit with a baton on a peaceful neighborhood street by Black police officers on January 7. Body-camera videos of the violent assault were made available to the public.
The widely shared recordings of the Nichols beating served as material for right-wing media ecosystems that frequently attribute the ills of Black America to Black America and sparked complex discussions among Black activists about how systemic racism can manifest itself in non-White people’s behavior.
A decades-long attempt to field a police force that resembled the city’s 64 percent Black population has resulted in the almost 2,000-strong Memphis Police Department being 58 percent, Black. In contrast to some recent high-profile examples of police brutality, Black Memphis Police Chief Carolyn Davis and other officials worked quickly to terminate, detain, and charge the Memphis officers before releasing the video evidence.
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The Tyre Nichols case is a “defining moment” for Carolyn Davis, the mayor of Memphis. Although specific studies have revealed that police officers of color use force less frequently than their White counterparts against Black individuals, analysts claim the improvement is relatively slight. According to Samuel Sinyangwe, CEO of Mapping Police Violence, “diversifying law enforcement is not going to fix this problem.”
He cited several aspects of the policing system, including orders to work in areas with a higher concentration of people of color and a system that relies on the officer’s discretion to enforce things like traffic stops, which leaves room for internal biases to enter the picture.
Over the weekend, Fox News conversations tended to be less severe. As muted video of the Memphis police beating Nichols played side-by-side, conservative Black sports culture blogger Jason Whitlock, a guest on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” condemned “young Black men and their unwillingness to respect each other compassionately.”
“To me, it appeared to be gang violence. Whitlock compared Davis, the married Memphis police chief, to “what young Black males do when they’re under the supervision of a single, Black woman.” After Tyre Nichols’ savage beating, Congress was under pressure to enact police reform.
The idea that policing’s issues are the fault of a few bad apples is perpetuated when attention is paid to specific individuals after police killings rather than the institution the officer represents, according to Jeanelle Austin, the director of the George Floyd Global Memorial in Minnesota.
Austin stated, “This is what I fear: What’s going to happen in Memphis is what happened in Minneapolis — that is, when Derek Chauvin and the other [three] officers were charged, the narrative changed from a problem with the police department to a personal one. That was part of a PR plan.
The system and culture of policing “trains people’s minds, regardless of the color of their skin, to behave in a specific manner,” she added. “That’s what we’ve been screaming at the top of our voices for years.” According to Craig Futterman, a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School specializing in policing and civil rights, systemic racism can be more challenging for the general public to understand than clearly evident White-on-Black crimes.
We like to categorize people as “good guys” and “bad guys,” he remarked. Referring to the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald, he continued, “It’s considerably easier to ingest the tale in an uncomplicated way watching a White officer firing 14 rounds at a young Black youngster laying on the ground.”
Activists have long called for policing reform, from the Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrations in 2014 to those in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. However, there have been few significant changes due to the failures of congressional action and the lack of centralization between local, state, and federal police institutions.
Ayanna Robinson traveled 6 1/2 hours from Indianapolis to Memphis more than two weeks after Nichols was killed following his arrest for what police claimed was reckless driving to participate in protests she believed would draw thousands of people upset about the officers’ documented beating of him. When she came, there were just a few dozen peaceful demonstrators, not thousands.
Robinson, 28, a manager at a KFC restaurant, claimed that the response was very different than what she witnessed in Memphis after Floyd, a Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020. After the Nichols murder, the city, in some ways, appeared too tranquil, she claimed.
Looking around a park where 100 protesters had assembled on Friday night, she remarked, “To generate a reaction, there needs to be a reaction, and right now, there’s no form of activity.” The fact that the five policemen accused of assaulting Nichols are Black, according to Robinson, is one of the main reasons she believed many people appeared more muted in their reactions to his death.
All hell would have broken loose if the officers had been White. War would have broken out in the city. “Shortness of breath,” according to the police’s initial account of Tyre Nichols’ incident.
Following the shooting murder of her cousin William Green, who was in handcuffs when he was killed by a Black police officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in January 2020, Nikki Owens experienced a similar sense of rage.
According to Owens, who now works for the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, “America is taught that racism is black and white. And even though institutional or systemic racism is pervasive, we are not taught about it. We are taught that it cannot be racist if a Black person kills another Black person. It’s a “crime against Black people.”
According to Owens, this mindset made it more difficult for her to mobilize local neighbors to take action and convince national and local media to report her cousin’s murder. She claimed, “There wasn’t the outrage. “Even after George Floyd died, nobody contacted us.”
Owens claimed her cousin’s death was unique from past police killings. This year sees the start of the officer’s criminal prosecution. “I could see their reaction when I informed them the cop was Black when I was out in the community, and I would talk to individuals,” she added. And other people would enquire as to the officer’s skin tone, which is just another sign of their ignorance.
Even while racism isn’t overt, several demonstrators claimed that Nichols’s passing might be a turning point for the country’s understanding of how institutionalized racism operates and how it can harm people. The beating of Nichols, according to CNN contributor and former South Carolina state lawmaker Bakari Sellers, reminded him of the Black Minneapolis police officer, J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd as Derek Chauvin choked him.
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Kueng, according to Sellers, “spoke about how he thought he could make a difference in policing.” And then, three days after being hired, he’s there, witnessing George Floyd being beaten while saying nothing. “The ethnicity of an officer is cop for many Black people.” Jason Sole, a community activist and former chairman of the neighborhood NAACP in Minneapolis, claimed that he had never experienced a sense of relief when coming across Black officers.
“I never experienced that ‘Oh fantastic, it’s a Black cop, hooray’ vibe. No. Sole stated that I was born in 1978 and never once experienced that feeling. All of your skin folk are not related. “We need people who are kind, people who show we care, people who understand that grace has to be extended to all,” Sole said, regardless of color.
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