Daily Herald opinion: Solutions to brutality will take time, self-assessment

  • Mourners light each other's candles at a vigil for Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers.

    Mourners light each other's candles at a vigil for Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers. Associated Press Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/28/2023 2:00 PM
This editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

There will be, in the analyzing of the disturbing video of Tyre Nichols' brutal, ultimately fatal, beating at the hands of five Black police officers, people who express a sense of relief.

"See?" they will say. "It's not racism. It's not a war of white police officers on Black people. It's just outliers, exceptions. It's not the system."


But no one should feel such relief.

First, of course, because the idea alone minimizes the horrific circumstances of Nichols' death.

But second, because the very root of such thinking is an indictment of the system it seeks to exonerate.

As author Ta-Nehisi Coates vividly argues in "Between the World and Me," a memoir written to his teenage son, "All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black."

A central example in Coates' book is the Black police force of Prince George's County near Washington, D.C., which he describes as being "as vicious as any in America" before offering a host of examples, including the killing of a college friend, to demonstrate the case.

No, if we want to candidly assess the experience of the Black person, whether we are Black or white, we can simply ask ourselves one key question that leaps out from among the many that reel in the mind after viewing the dreadful assault on Nichols: Would these Black officers, knowing their own body cameras and any number of security cameras in the neighborhood were filming their actions, have behaved so wantonly if the person they pulled over had been white?

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Perhaps we cannot truly know the answer to that question. But reflecting on it says much.

In the aftermath of such horrors, compassionate people struggle for solutions. We grasp for quick responses. Take money away from the police. Give the police more money. Eliminate cash bail. Throw all the criminals behind bars. Give police more training. Give police more control. Hopefully, in the effort to resolve dichotomies like these, we eventually will land on some strategy with the promise of real success.

But that day will not come soon. It likely will not come before we have shuddered to witness more unexplainable brutalities. And it will not come without candid, uncompromising self-examination.

That responsibility falls to each of us, and may we be up to the task. At the same time, and more directly to the point, let's ask, let's expect, our police departments and every officer on every force to make this brutally honest self-assessment and resolve to respond with determination and purpose.

The exercise is not likely to end in relief for any of us. But it is an essential beginning on the long road to something better.

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