I knew the day was coming, so in my mind I tried to avoid it.
It was Friday, Jan. 27, when the Memphis Police promised to release the video of a 29-year old Black man being beaten to death by at least five police officers.
So I tried to make that Friday as normal as possible. I got emails from my editor, silly text messages from my brothers, text messages and emails from fellow journalists outside of Seattle. I initially ignored the ones related to the Memphis killing, including the one from the National Association of Black Journalists.
I got up, started my coffee and turned on the TV. There he stood, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump holding a news conference in preparation for the release of the video showing the brutality that led to Tyre Nichols’ demise.
I guess I got what I asked for. Another normal day in America.
We’ve learned a lot over the years when it comes to police killing Black people.
We’ve learned that some communities are policed while others are protected and served.
We’ve also learned that marching and protesting and displaying Black Lives Matter signs gets the media’s attention, but rarely does it translate into policies that positively affect people who look like me.
The 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, captured on video by a young bystander, prompted protests around the world. It was amazing seeing people in London and Australia connecting with thousands of Americans calling for a more just policing system. We thought for sure those horrific images, coupled with pleas from his family, would prompt lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Almost two years after it was introduced, the fight for its approval continues.
Yet, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal remains hopeful.
Rep. “Jim Jordan, who’s the chair of the Judiciary Committee, basically said there is no law that’s going to help at all, which is ridiculous. There is absolutely legislation that can fix this,” said Jayapal, also a member of the committee. “I don’t know if it can fix everything but it goes a long distance to fixing some of this.
“I’m hoping that this horrific, inhumane beating — which we know was not an isolated incident — moves [Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.] to want to engage again in good faith and not come up with something minor that it won’t even matter.”
Scott had opposed advancing the bill.
For years, activists and progressive lawmakers have tried to convince the rest of America that there’s a systemic problem with how we are policing our neighborhoods. Reading and watching these stories always keep me up at night.
Who would be next? My brothers? A cousin? My 27-year old son? Me?
Trying to convey to a population that doesn’t know this fear and pain — and doesn’t have to know it — can be mentally exhausting.
I waited a couple of hours after the release of the Nichols video, still determined to make that Friday a TGIF kind of day. But the texts and calls interrupted that quest.
One call came from a friend who wanted me to share with a radio audience my personal experiences with “the talk,’’ the lesson Black parents give their children about engaging with the police. He also wanted me to discuss on-air how Black cops could do to this to a Black man.
I declined the offer to share my “talk” since mine is more of a yearslong series of talks and continues to this day. In fact, my mother, now in her 80s, called me after seeing the coverage and asked how I was doing. She asked if I were writing about Nichols. I told her that indeed I was. Without hesitation she replied, “Be careful. They will beat an old boy just as they did a young one.”
As for the Black-on-Black police assault, I told my friend that internalized racial oppression is real. It is one of the vestiges of slavery when enslaved Black people were made to brutalize other Black people as punishment for running away, or stealing food for their families. Food that they had grown and prepared.
It was often done in public view. They were whipped or beaten while other Black people looked on.
Even then, hundreds of years ago, society ingrained in Black and white people that Black lives don’t matter and are to be devalued and dehumanized. That’s why it was easy for the five Black officers not to see the humanity of Tyre Nichols, but see him as something not human.
Just as the video was released in Memphis, I received a group email from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Chief Adrian Diaz, Council President Debora Juarez and police union president Mike Solan. All four touted the great job the city is doing to make sure what happened to Nichols would never happen here. I’m sure they had good intentions, but for me the quick response and its statements landed with a thud.
I was like a person grieving their brother being killed by a drunken driver only to then hear someone say, “sorry for your loss, but I never drink and drive.” Added to the insult is the fact that the Seattle Police Department is still under a federal monitor because of years of racial bias in policing.
Later that Friday, as I made my way home, I kept an appointment at a restaurant with a potential source for a column. What was awkwardly noticeable was the laughter and merriment flowing among the restaurant patrons. People taking group selfies. People singing “Happy Birthday.” The lesson learned: Life goes on for most of the nation, even in the midst of what some saw as a day of mourning.
When I got home I became fully engrossed in the networks’ coverage of the video. And before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep on the sofa.
I’d survived Friday and now it was Saturday.
I turned on the TV and the protests were in full effect. The commentators were comparing the video to the George Floyd video and the Rodney King video.
I got a few emails from my brothers about the upcoming Eagles-49ers game. I made my coffee. It was another normal day.
And I finally got around to reading my email from the Black journalists association. Among other things, it warned of the trauma and complexities involved in covering the Nichols story. And for some reason, I felt the last line of the email was speaking directly at me: “Be watchful and safe.”
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