“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!” Robert Burns
This 239-year-old quote from poet Robert Burns came to mind as I searched
for something to say about the death of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old
Memphis man who was savagely beaten by police on January 7. Seeing him
attached to tubes with his eyes swollen shut and his face bloodied broke my
heart but seeing how it happened was more than I could bear.
The traffic stop that resulted in his beating and subsequent death at the hands
of five Memphis police officers left me speechless, however, that his death was
by African American officers sworn to protect and serve him seemed to make
bad matters worse.
We’ve seen minor traffic accidents end in horrific beatings and
deaths—Rodney King, George Floyd– but rarely are African American officers
the offenders. The five officers were fired and arrested.
My heart goes out to Tyre’s mother especially. Mothers are programmed to
come when their children call and to hear him trying to reach his mother’s
protection but being unable to, amplified my sadness.
My thoughts inevitably went to the families of the arrested officers. My
mother told me early “I’m with you 100 percent if you’re in the right but I
won’t uphold you in the wrong.” She said she’d vigorously defend me if I were
wrongly accused but if I could’ve stayed out of trouble but chose not to, she
said “Let me know where you are but I’m not coming to get you.”
I never found out if she meant it–I worked full time not to land in jail so, what
do the parents, spouses, and relatives of these accused officers do or say? I’m
sure the morning or afternoon of January 7 th when these officers left for work,
nobody could have predicted what would transpire.
One leader last week said this time the problem wasn’t Black but blue,
meaning the officers were police officers first and African American second
and would protect their own. I can’t say what color the problem is, but I think
the actions of Chief C. J. Davis were appropriate, transparent, and necessary.
Whether they are tried and convicted remains to be seen but restoring public
trust is crucial.
There were no indications that anybody spoke up, attempted to stop the
kicking and tasing, or render help. Mr. Nichols was in the street, uncared for,
and treated like trash. Tyre’s parents said he ran from the police because he
feared what might happen. Sadly, his fears were legitimate but what happened
was much worse than anyone could have imagined.
Police officers are sworn to protect and serve but they, too, want to go home
at the end of their shift. Traffic stops, construction zones, domestic calls,
mental health interventions—almost any “routine” situation can be dangerous
and deadly and assessing threats instantaneously is a life or death decision.
Officers, first responders, and their families live in constant fear of them dying
while doing their jobs, but the majority of these brave souls go out and give
their best every day. I’m grateful and I pray that what transpired in Memphis
January 7, never happens again anywhere on earth.
Today we can decide (1) will this be just another sad chapter that ended this
treasured son’s life, and we wail and mourn as this madness and inhumanity
continues? or (2) can communities and police departments build intentional
partnerships and work toward mutual respect and care? Tyre and the others
before him are depending on us to make good choices. Heaven help us if we