The brutal torture and murder of Tyre Nichols is beyond shocking. It’s traumatic to the nation at large. The only exception falls with racists who enjoy this type of thing – yes, they are out there. Yet, however troubling the footage is, witnessing it is necessary to document the brutal history and to hold a system designed to oppress Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities more than others to account. That the cops are Black is more arbitrary than anything else when discussing the approaches used under the guise of law enforcement.
When Black cops kill civilians, they’re typically only held to account when the victims are white. An issue we’ve previously discussed. However, the speed at which the five Memphis cops were charged only speaks to the brutality of the evidence. The charges against the cops, commentary from local officials, lawyers for the family, and a statement from the White House all served the public to anticipate what was to be released by the Memphis Police Department.
Now that we know, it’s horrifying.
The actions of the officers have been broadly denounced by law enforcement officials who have seen the footage. Something we should probably get accustomed to seeing in the coming days and weeks only to watch the majority of cops backtrack later – similar to what we saw after the tortuous murder of George Floyd. Some officers, presumably the good ones, stood with Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in the summer of 2020 only to be excoriated by police unions later. They very publicly forced the vast majority of those cops to “pick a side,” so to speak.
The outrage over the video of the killing of Tyre Nichols is justified. Even far-right groups, who often side with civil rights protesters in cases like these, are angered by the abuse of authority. The mostly libertarian side of far-right extremism often speaks against police overreach, the militarization of police, and the abuse of power. These commonalities provide inroads for extremist groups to undermine the work of civil and human rights groups which can be dangerous. In 2020, when far-right actors attacked police stations and started fires, the damage done by those groups is still foisted on so-called “ANTIFA” and the BLM movement.
Calls for Calm
Understandably, calls for calm by the same authority figures who are a part of the culture that leads to police killings often fall on deaf ears. Especially following a year of cops killing more than three people a day – setting a record for the number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement in a single year. Additionally, what law enforcement deems “calm” is often next to impossible to achieve. A terse word towards police officers could lead to a beating and arrest.
Obviously, when Tyre’s mother calls for peace, you must take her words into consideration. But how far can those words carry a civil rights movement that’s fighting against the broader problem of police violence? Police killed 1,176 people in the US in 2022 and violence at the hands of police increased overall. What exactly do politicians and law enforcement expect from Black, Indigenous, and Latino groups? To be silent in the face of death? That won’t happen.
While no one is calling for the destruction of anything except the police state, that doesn’t mean we should expect people to not be angry. And angry is not calm. Peaceful protest is what occurs in times like these with very little exception. We can’t expect people to not be enraged at the system of policing and how it’s abused when used against non-white groups. Yet, this opposition to protests speaks to how police have a higher threshold for police brutality of White people than Black people – a social trait that exists across many spectrums in US society.
Additionally, we can’t deny that protest works. Protest is necessary as an effective form of speech and civic engagement in any democracy. Studies prove that protesting police violence reduces officer-involved fatalities for Black people and Latinos. The former are three times more likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts. What we saw in the summer of 2020 is what we can expect to see out there in the coming weeks: police and far-right groups escalating peaceful protests and committing acts of violence.
Civil rights movements would be wise to reject armed white nationalist extremists.
Injustice In Media
Calls for reforms and accountability are once again in the mainstream. Every cable “news” outlet is now covering it extensively. Justice is a talking point to drive ratings for corporate-owned media that thrives on ad dollars and profit margins. Meanwhile, people actually doing the work are largely silenced until, and only after, a brutal murder is caught on camera. Any other time, they gloss over the issue in favor of more benign and inconsequential stories.
Since the summer of 2020, more people have been speaking out on police brutality than ever before. But you wouldn’t know it unless to subscribe to independent journalists like myself who not only write about it constantly but also promotes other writers who do too. We can not rely on “re-fund the police” rhetoric employed by the party civil rights protesters hinged their bets on.
Major media is not without fault either. As journalists, our primary job is challenging power with truth and demanding accountability for oppressive actions. That’s not what mainstream reporting does in the US. Instead, we are left insulated from what is really happening in our communities and around the world. If I told you that the vast majority of Cubans support the Cuban government, you wouldn’t believe me. But it’s true.
Similarly, major media has failed us by looking past police brutality for years. Scant coverage of the record number of deaths at the hands of police speaks for itself. No coverage of brutality like what we saw in the videos of Tyre Nichols when people survive either. There are dozens of cases a day of police brutalizing people. Whether “justified” or not, you don’t hear about it because most people survive them. There are so many levels of police misconduct and major media barely touches the surface.
What happened to Tyre Nichols happens because local and national reporters aren’t holding the right people to account. The question then becomes, is it intentional? Most would say yes.
Culture Wars Kill
The United States operates on a reactionary mindset. The loud minority creates more noise to create and uphold bogus culture wars. From the “Blue Lives Matter” and “Thin Blue Line” rhetoric to the homophobic and transphobic language of today, small groups of people are doing real harm to people in the real world. That same divisive language has only served to drive more money to police as they employ more aggressive authoritarian tactics.
Ignoring the impacts of these so-called wars is what allows them to fester and grow like a bloody hemorrhoid on America’s ass. This is precisely how we end up with a system that kills trans kids, gay kids, Black people, and every other marginalized group in the US. It has even led to record numbers of deaths within our jails all over the country. Disregarding systemic issues with policing and the carceral system is a case study on willful ignorance.
Many discussions will be had and many allies will come out of the woodwork. But, as we’ve seen so many times before in the modern era, they will disappear along with the stories as they fade away from the nation’s psyche. Nothing that has been proposed by Congress, state, or local elected officials goes far enough to address the culture that led to the brutal and torturous death of either George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, or anyone else.
At this point, the only way to create change is through a major disruption that goes beyond any reforms proposed. Having roving gangs of cops like “jump-out” units who go far beyond their legal authority to oppress with impunity is dangerous even on the surface. These units, which are seen in cities all over the country regardless of elected leaders’ political affiliations, create havoc and a level of stress unseen in even the most crime-riddled neighborhoods in the US.
The time for change is now.
The now-fired Memphis police officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.
Watch the videos here if you’re so inclined. I have to warn you, it’s bad. Really, really bad.
The Antagonist Magazine is a project made up of journalists, activists, and writers focused on amplifying the stories of marginalized communities. The goal is to educate the public by sharing narratives focused on independent voices. Born of an online community in 2019, our platform operates independently; free of corporate influence. Please consider supporting the work of dozens of writers from various communities.