This week, we are saying yet another name. We are mourning yet another life that was brutally stolen far too soon. We are aching alongside a grieving family and honoring a curious, exploratory, and gentle soul . We are remembering a deeply loved human - a father, a son, a brother, a friend.
As we continue to honor the legacy and light of Tyre Nichols, we also have a responsibility to continue to work towards dismantling the institutionalized power structure that has allowed state protected executions and brutality to continue for far, far too long. Healing cannot happen without justice, justice cannot happen without accountability, and accountability cannot happen when we are silent.
There is a long history behind policing in America, but I’ll give you the short of it. The origins of our modern day policing system can be traced back over three hundred years to when slave owners needed a formal system to establish terror and deter slave uprisings and capture any enslaved people who tried to flee. Now I am not here to take a rigidly black and white stance on the police - there are countless incredibly brave men and women who put on their uniforms every day with an unwavering dedication to serve and protect. But as much as these individuals do for our communities, they can’t change the facts behind the history and institutionalization of policing across America. They can, however, help create a different future for policing by shifting the culture and practices both on our streets and behind locked doors. But only if they are brave enough to take a stand and speak up for what is right.
Our policing systems are entrenched with a history of racism, violence, and brutality. Only by actively acknowledging this history, can we have any hope of a redemptive and restorative future. Violence towards marginalized communities has become so embedded into law enforcement practices, that we are seeing officers from these marginalized communities evolve into the system that has subjugated, brutalized, and killed their own communities for generations. The power of policing is so intoxicating it can overpower a person’s connection to their own community, and the lack of accountability can make them feel untouchable.
To the point where five men can hold down a man and beat him with such vitriol that he cries out for his mother. To the point where EMTs from the fire department called to the scene can stand around and disregard their obligation to administer aid for at least thirty minutes, a critical time that could have changed the outcome of the situation. To the point where officers can go to Tyree Nichols’ mother’s house and lie to her face about what had happened to her son and the hospital he had been taken to. They lie to protect each other, and to protect themselves.
Silence is deadly. To be complicit in silence is to be responsible. Any uniformed officer who does not denounce outright the brutality of this act and the need for each of the officers involved to be convicted of murder and sentenced accordingly, and an externally led investigation of the Memphis Police Department and Chief of Police, is complicit in Tyre Nichols’ murder. Silence becomes a license for more uniformed men and women to take more innocent lives under the guise of ‘serve and protect’, and will only result in more heartbreak and injustice.
What Steps Can You Take?
VOTE VOTE VOTE! So many of the critical roles that have a direct opportunity to shape policing and law enforcement practices can be found on the ballet. Take the time to learn up on who is running for these positions and their stances on these important issues. We have the power to elect sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys, state’s attorneys, attorney generals, and judges. Each of these players has a say in law enforcement practices, laws around law enforcement, and what accountability looks like.
Educate yourself and your community about the problem at hand. Research and join community efforts around Civilian Review Boards (community led oversight agencies for police departments). Learn about the connection between our prison systems and our policing practices and seize every opportunity to disrupt the prison pipeline through equal employment opportunities and equitable and inclusion education systems.
Fortify yourself to keep going. This is a generations-long battle that started long before you and me. We will keep doing what we can; organizing, strategizing, and implementing the changes that can reform our policing practices.
Listen to the impacted communities and their grassroots organizers, especially if you yourself do not identify within that community. Follow their lead, offer the resources they ask for, and show up with and for them in the ways they request.