I ran to grab a bottle of water while I had a few minutes in between patients, and I walked into the lounge to find Rodney King’s daughter, Lora Dene King, giving an interview about her thoughts on the (at the time) soon to be released footage of Tyre Nichols’ arrest and beating. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had to listen. Ms. King was only 7 when her father was brutally beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers, and yesterday she stated that “the only difference between now and then is hashtags and clearer videos.” My mind started racing.
In an instant, I realized the complexity of what I was watching.
- The media was building up the hype for the release of the footage like it was the next Black Panther movie,
- Tyre’s family was pleading with the community not to react violently in response to the heinous crime which would soon be witnessed,
- The response by the Memphis Police Department and District Attorney concerning the consequences for the officers was SWIFT in comparison to other cases,
- The officers involved were black men,
- and there is yet another defenseless human being killed at the hands of the police.
The five police officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, and Desmond Mills Jr., were part of the Scorpion Unit – an acronym for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods”. Ironic? The unit was created in 2021 to patrol areas of high crime in the city. Less than 80 yards away from his home, handcuffed, physically restrained, and yelling for his mom, how, exactly, was Tyre involved in “high crime”?
In his article for Forbes magazine, Shaun Harper shared how civil rights attorney Ben Crump told the story of another unarmed Black man who was terrorized in Memphis five days prior to the Nichols beating. “That same Scorpion Unit confronted him while he was in this car going to get pizza and he said that they used all kind of profanity against him, they threw him on the ground [asking], ‘where are the drugs, where are the weapons’… and put a gun to his head.” According to Crump, after somehow surviving that potentially deadly ordeal alive, the man repeatedly called the Memphis police department’s internal affairs unit to report what had happened to him. They were unresponsive; there was no accountability for the officers’ gross misconduct. “If they would have responded to him, we might not be here today,” Crump maintained.
So now, we must address the elephant in the room. The five officers involved in this beating, and subsequent murder, were black men. I have to inject a family question at this point… and it’s simply two words. HOW, SWAY??
I’ll tell you how. The American Psychological Association defines Institutionalized Racism as the differential treatment of individuals on the basis of their racial group by religious organizations, governments, businesses, the media, educational institutions, and other large social entities… [including] legal statutes that restrict the civil liberties of the members of specific racial categories. In my doctoral studies on leadership, one of the keystones embedded in an organization is the mindset of its leaders. This mindset, through policies, standard operating procedures, rewards, and punishment, is what serves to create the culture of an organization. THIS is how, black cops can don the coat of the oppressor and become the very thing they claim to fight against. When the very culture of the police environment marginalizes the value of “black” life, it doesn’t matter what the officers look like. Having power isn’t inherently evil… how you use it just shows who you are.
Shortly before I walked into that news broadcast, I came across a video on TikTok where Alexus Grace was discussing how her professor tackled a question regarding Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the things that stuck with me the most was when she quoted her professor as saying, “If you don’t know your formative narrative, you will adopt someone else’s story where the heroes look like them and the villain looks like you.” Humanity is being lied to every day, regardless of what side of the coin you tend to fall on. Propaganda is part and parcel of oppression! Programming is inherent in propaganda. When you see, hear, and feel something enough, it becomes a part of you. And this is how black cops can beat a defenseless man to death. They adopted the narrative of what the villain looks like. It didn’t matter that he was handcuffed. They ascertained that physical restraint was necessary. As was tasing him. And spraying him multiple times in the face with pepper spray. And punching him in the face so hard his head rocked while being held by other officers. And kicking him in the face and body while he lay on the ground. But, in all fairness… They did warn him that they would “baton the fuck out of [him]” if he didn’t give them his hands… even though the officers were holding them.
There has been an outpouring of support for Tyre and his family from the general public, as well as an outcry of pain from black men. In a conversation with Timothy Cross, a musician and author from Dallas, his thoughts on the matter were gut-wrenching. “It’s a sad state of affairs. I no longer feel like I belong here. We get hatred and disdain from everywhere… Women hate us, corporate hates us, cops want to kill us. Nobody likes us, not even black men…My heart is broken.” Artists and creatives have used their craft as a kind of catharsis, a way to tell the story and share their own grief. One such artist is John-Paul Moore of JP Designs Art who recently shared his piece called, simply, “Justice For Tyre”.
Tyre should still be here today loving his son, mother and family. Although I didn’t know Tyre, this is how I want to remember him. I wish I could unsee the video. My heart breaks for his family and the community of Memphis. My prayers of comfort, strength, peace, justice and change go out to his family. I pray this tribute brings them some comfort and light during these dark days.
Rest in heaven Tyre.
Healing from this, like other incidents of police violence, will take time. Time, patience, love, empathy, and compassion. But the first step is actually to discuss those hard points. Those difficult questions. And address the elephant in the room.
The “devil” isn’t always “white”. Sometimes, the devil looks like you.