Breaking Down the White Supremacist System That Murdered Tyre Nichols

A collage of images of Tyre Nichols, smiling and protest signs. Photo credit to ABC News:

This one hurts. For myriad reasons. And ya KNOW the video is bad when people kept saying please keep it peaceful before the release of the video. Let’s get into it. 

1) Tyre Nichols should still be walking this Earth. That is first and foremost. He was brutally murdered over a traffic infraction. A traffic infraction where the 5 officers served as police, judge, jury, and executioner. This is the epitome of state-sanctioned extrajudicial murder.

2) Even as all the cops involved are Black, this is still an overt act of white supremacy. Why? Because policing is a white supremacist institution, because our nation is built on white supremacy, because even Black people operate within and internalize white supremacy culture. Policing in this country was born out of the slave patrols of our not too distant past. AND, if the cops involved were white, do you think firing and charges would have been so swift? If the cops were white, do you think the police union would be so silent? If the cops were white, do you think their brothers and sisters in blue would be selling them out so quickly and definitively? I don’t think so. Attorney for the Nichols family, Ben Crump, stated that this swift movement is the blueprint moving forward for any officers who commit crimes. White supremacy is very much at play here. Remember in NWA’s F*ck Tha Police, when Ice Cube raps about the Black cop showing out for the white cop? What he’s referring to is the particular and pernicious ways by which Black cops have/had to prove themselves worthy of the job by being more brutal to Black bodies. James Baldwin talks about this in his book, Notes of a Native Son in the Journey to Atlanta essay. At one time and in many places across this nation, when Black people were able to be employed as cops, they could not arrest white people, so they cut their teeth on Black people, reigning brutality down on Black communities with more force and fire than their white counterparts. They had been raised in a racially brutal war zone (this country) and internalized those lessons. There have always been Black people who would sell out their Black brethren and sistren – some became slave drivers, overseers, their enslaver’s right hand. Today, some are cops, politicians, judges, media personalities. 

3) This is also overt anti-Blackness. How can Black people be anti-Black, you might ask. Well, because we are steeped in the same air and water that is this country, we internalize the anti-Black messages and act upon them. Colorism is one prevalent way in which it shows up but there are other ways, such as this brutality. Anti-Blackness is the twin sibling to white supremacy. One cannot exist without the other. They infect the air that surrounds us, the water that nourishes us. No one in this country can avoid being infected. 

4) It is always more gutting when the racialized violence comes from within the community. Like the old horror film, When a Stranger Calls – the call is coming from inside the house. Clarence Thomas, Diamond and Silk, Stacey Dash, Candace Owens, Kanye West, and others are those Black people. 

5) Representation is not the be all, end all. As Ernest Crim, III says on his LinkedIn: “Representation matters is an incomplete sentence. What it should say is representation matters if and only if you represent the will of the people. And by the people, I mean, those who are disenfrachised, those who are the targets of racism, those who are the targets of capitalism, those who are the targets of sexism, those who are the targets of homophobia, those who are the targets of Islamaphobia and every other phobia. Otherwise your representation is just white supremacy in Black-face. See if we end the statement with representation matters without adding any context, we’re truly only speaking to a child who doesn’t understand the nuances of how systems work and oppress people.” Just look at the recent candidacy of Herschel Walker (and the others listed above in #4), is who Mr. Crim is speaking about when he says white supremacy in Black-face.

6) Also, toxic masculinity anyone? Yep. The patriarchy and toxic masculinity also undergirds police culture. I’m sure someone who studies gender would have a better take on this than I. But I see it. Gotta be bigger, tougher, more brutal than the next guy. I’ve lived this too long. In this mindset, muscle and what one can physically do with to another is privileged over knowledge and brain power. 

7) We also have to see this behavior as a part of the capitalistic system we live in. Wealthy people and corporations stand to make more off of our broken and beaten bodies (hospitals, pharmaceutical companies) and our incarceration (public and private prisons) than other more peaceful solutions. When calls for police reform include solutions like investing in communities, housing, health care, mutual aid, the wealthy have not figured out how to commodify that yet. Therefore, these pleas will fall on those intent to not hear the cries for help, for equity, for humane treatment. There were more police killings last year than in any other previous year recorded. This, after record investments in police reforms: body cameras, equity trainings, and record national reform efforts.

8) And if you watched the video, ask yourself why. The announcement and media fervor over the pending release of the video harkens back to the days when public lynchings were spectacle and sport. Where white community members would don their Sunday best to come witness brutalities and cruelties inflicted upon Black bodies. Did you need proof? Do you not believe Black people when we say what we experience? Why? The specific trauma porn around Black brutality and murder bears deep reflection. As a society, we are not like this with other bodies.

At some point, we as a society need to realize that policing was born out of the imagination of whiteness. It is time to reimagine policing through a people of color lens. What might accountability, discipline, and punishment look like from our people of color perspectives? How might we imagine something more humane instead of the machine built as another arm of Black genocide?

Anyways, rest in power sweet one. Tyre, you should still be among us, brothah. This is heartbreaking.

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