Updated: Feb 9
I enjoy watching wonderful films and old movies, even though the older movies tend not to include many minorities compared to today. One of my favorite lines comes from Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, where he says, "Of all the gin joints, in all the cities, in all the world, she walks into mine."
They captured the murder of Tyre Nichols by a reported five black police officers in Memphis with tragic brutal beatings on video. According to most of his friends and family accounts, Mr. Nichols was a lovely young man working for a name-brand packaging and shipping logistics company. Interestingly, Demetrius Haley, one of the offending officers responsible for the death of Mr. Nichols, apparently had an ex-significant other who worked at the exact location and company as Mr. Nichols. Of all the logistic office locations in Memphis, a population of 630K+, Mr. Nichols finds employment at the same nationally recognized company as the likable ex-girlfriend of one of his charged police assailants. Mr. Tyre Nichols possibly had a relationship with a former girlfriend of a Memphis police officer on the fatal night of his beating death. The officer in question was in a particular elite crime unit, called the SCORPION unit. So perhaps a separate personal issue collided with a traffic stop or the police-enforced traffic stop was deliberate - we may never know the actual truth on record until perhaps a subsequent trial or not at all. What we know is that Tyree Nichols was unarmed and, on his way, home to see his mother. Still, he never arrived. Instead, his life was beaten out of him, leaving his four-year-old daughter fatherless.
Driving While Black
It is difficult enough to drive as a minority, where the increased violence experienced by black drivers has increased disproportionately compared to other ethnic groups. Whether you are Tyre Nichols driving on your way home or Keenan Anderson, a 31-year-old black high school teacher and father who was tased to death by police officers in California earlier this year, we must see driving black as a high risk. Driving while black, on the other hand, is a public crisis, not an oversensitive liberalized whining agenda. I have heard and seen many talking heads on national television, news programs, and online podcasts discuss and describe all the parameters associated with a traffic stop from a police perspective, followed by the instruction to minorities to reduce the risk of being shot, "just comply." I have two words for this non-enlightened advice: "No crap!" Of course, we must comply with law enforcement, but how often do we see police officers shooting, choking, and tasing black men to death? Two more Memphis police officers have joined the five Memphis police officers charged in Tyre Nichols's death. I heard these officers screaming approximately 70 commands in about 13 minutes for Mr. Nichols to comply. The videotape also reveals that Mr. Nichols not only complied, but also reassured the officers he was not resisting. He only later tries to escape in fear
for his life, after officers continue to hurt him while on the ground. When a black person driving sees flashing red and blue lights and hears sirens in their rear-view or side-view mirror, a particular alarm bell rings hollow in their ear. Their taste buds evaporate, fingers become numb, sweat builds, and slides down their back like a Popsicle melting in July, and their eyes bore a hole straight through the atmosphere, hoping for an invisible spot to open and allow them to escape potential harm. While others think these reactions are liberal victim drama, the folks on the receiving end pray they never become victims of another traffic stop gone wrong.
When the decision was made to release Tyre Nichols attack video, I became immediately concerned about how another brutal attack on an unarmed black man would affect his community and country. Recalling the animosity towards police right after the Rodney King beating, my thoughts went directly to rioting, looting, and possibly burning because so outraged were communities of color; they took to the streets to release their frustration and pain. "Riot is the language of the unheard," explained Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to a predominantly white audience to explain the context of racial injustice. Two unarmed black men killed by police officers and captured on video do not shine a spotlight on police brutality, because we already know it exists, and shamefully the world does, too, thanks to the expanded global use of social media. George Floyd's murder was the choke and murder scene seen around the world, further eroding our stature as a beacon of democracy. If you are a minority, is the message being heard from Greenland to the Republican of Ghana in the world? We need to see these recorded deaths as backward steps in racial justice. Positive evidence is that the police and justice system are irrevocably broken unless courage is cast as a hammer, and the courageous use it to batter the walls of unequal policing policies and even the worst laws (qualified immunity) that protect police officers from criminal investigation and encourage this harmful behavior to flourish and continue.
It is almost impossible to understand the depths of a mother's and parent's pain when losing a child to violence, especially a tragic death that could have been prevented. These sad, painful deaths remind minorities that they are not valued and that their humanity is not recognized. As a result, black life does not matter as much as others. For example, the victims of these senseless, prev
entable blue-on-black murders are not only reduced to mournful statistics, but such also as the 8 minutes and 42 seconds it took for a police officer to kneel on George Floyd's neck. But also, the black police officers fired in Mr. Nichols's murder was charged with felonies within weeks, not the average months to a year for white officers accused of similar misconduct. I am aware of the picture painted in my mind's eye of the pain black families endured during the Jim Crow era, of black bodies swinging from trees due to widespread lynching. Since some state-funded public schools limit the amount of black history taught, so as not to make children feel bad, the present mirrors the past, and it is on videotape. Learning about genuine tragedies, like the Tulsa massacre and Rosewood, Florida, creates empathy and awareness of how past racial hatred fuels the current stance on public education and the federal government against inclusive cultural diversity training. Yes, it is painful to be reminded of the past, but if you do not face it and deal with the sins of the past, how can we work constructively to build a better future, not rooted in racism, but a future replaced by equality, freedom of choice, expression, and cooperation? We need people in local communities, suburbs, and those elected to political positions to find the courage to do what is right, and force representatives to listen by influencing the ballot box and peacefully protesting injustice at all levels. As police murders continue and black bodies continue to be destroyed, will the fabric of American justice and democracy erode - is that what we want? See something, feel something, and say something!