Black on Black Crime Shrouded in Blue–The Murder of Tyre Nichols

Within the Black community, there’s always been a love-hate relationship between folks in the hood and the police. When we’re in trouble, and they come to our assistance, we’re grateful that they finally showed up, ready to “protect and serve” rather than to wield their batons, toss us on the ground or harass us for no apparent reason.

But even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, even when you’re dressed to the nines, even when you’re a college graduate working for a Fortune 500 business, seeing those flashing blue lights often cause a Black man’s heart to flutter as droplets of sweat begin to gather on your forehead and under your armpits.

Oh no! It’s the “fuzz,” the “pigs,” the “ghetto bird,” “Five O,” and the “po-po.”

I imagine that the more derogatory terms for police may have crossed young Tyre Nichols’ mind just before a Jan. 7 traffic stop quickly turned into a heinous, beating by five Black police officers on a Memphis, Tennessee roadside. After being yanked from his car, told to obey a series of conflicting demands, and tossed about like a rag doll, Nichols eventually attempted to escape. And while he did temporarily elude the officers, it seems difficult to rationalize the officers’ subsequent brutality and escalating rage, captured on video, which resulted in Nichols’ death three days later.

In the video, the officers can be heard discussing the deadly turn of events, celebrating their success in capturing the young “criminal,” and explaining what they did and why. But upon the release of the video to the public, now four in total, the backlash has, justifiably, been swift and severe.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the actions of the officers was “a failing of basic humanity” and called the incident “heinous, reckless, and inhumane” in a YouTube video posted late last month.”

Five Memphis police officers, all Black, have been fired and charged with Nichols’ murder, and two other officers are facing discipline. Another officer, white, has also been fired. The city’s fire department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant. The Memphis Police Department also disbanded the specialized unit whose officers beat Nichols.

All the officers charged will have their day in court and should be presumed innocent until proven guilty – despite the images captured on video, which cannot be refuted.

Still, one wonders why no one stepped forward and said, “Enough is enough.” Perhaps it was because of the “blue wall of silence,” a term used to denote the supposed informal code of silence among police officers in America not to intervene or to report on a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes, especially as related to police brutality in the United States.

But do Black police officers follow this “code” even when they are in pursuit of another Black man or woman? They do if they don’t want to risk being ostracized by their peers and treated like pariahs. Nonetheless, wrong is wrong. And the senseless death of Nichols provides further support for decades-long demands for nationwide police reform.

This writer hopes that the accused officers will not fall victim to the court of public opinion, as it appears three of the fired policemen, now charged with second-degree murder, already have by their fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.

The National Black Greek organization recently revoked the memberships of Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills Jr., and Emmitt Martin III, with their names now appearing on the fraternity’s “expelled persons” list.

“We strongly condemn the conduct of the former Memphis police officers involved in the incident, including the three former members of our organization,” said Grand Basileus Ricky L. Lewis, the fraternity’s chief executive. “The brutality shown in the video not only violated our moral sensibilities, but also transgressed our fraternal and established code of conduct.”

Point taken Grand Basileus, but they are still innocent until proven guilty, right?

During Nichols’ funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton explained why he had taken the young man’s murder so personally, providing reasons with which this writer agrees and finds far more palatable than the decision made by Omega Psi Phi’s executive board. “There’s nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us who fight to open doors – that you walk through those doors and chose to act like the folks we had to fight to get you through those doors.”

So, these five Black officers find themselves in a conundrum.

As Philip Hayden, a former FBI agent, wrote in an opinion column for USA Today, “Cops don’t rat on cops.”

“That blue wall is one of many factors that further pushes the widening divide between the world as seen by law enforcement and the world experienced by the citizens whom officers are sworn to protect,” he said, further explaining, “it’s important for officers to be loyal to one another; it’s a dangerous profession. But our first loyalty is to the law. Bad officers make maintaining that loyalty unnecessarily tough for everyone.”

The death of Tyre Nichols occurred because of a dysfunctional system that should have been overhauled decades ago. The color of the officers should not matter, nor should the color of those suspected of breaking the law.

The time has come for the blue wall to come tumbling down.

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