Opinion – Charles M. Blow: Death of Tire Nichols is America’s shame


Watching the TV countdown to the airing of the video of Tire Nichols being savagely beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee, not only converts the black death into theater – it is also a stark condemnation of American perversion.

The video was cruel and execrable, but unfortunately it did not constitute a separate case. Instead, it was one more in a long string of videos showing black bodies being tortured by police officers. It was yet another example of snuff pornography (films showing real deaths) with black victims in a country where the enormous volume of violence is making people numb.

The US – and the world – has become aware that police violence is a problem. And then they simply walked away, before the job was done and the war was won. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, followed by a historic summer of protests, police killings of US citizens didn’t go down — they went up.

What dwindled were ephemeral allies, politicians looking to improve their poll results, and young people locked in their homes by Covid who had seized the protests as an opportunity to find themselves. Over time, support for the Black Lives Matter movement began to wane even among black people.

And as Americans shifted their attention to other priorities, such as politics and the economy, the public either lost sensitivity to police killings, or else indifferently began to view them as regrettable by-products, but ultimately acceptable from the much-needed increase in police action at a time of rising crime.

To stand out, a death had to be truly barbaric and evil, and the circumstances under which it occurred truly macabre.

This case has now materialized with the death of black Tire Nichols after being savagely beaten by five black Memphis police officers. Authorities reacted relatively quickly to fire, arrest, and criminally indict the officers. But instead of standing up to applaud a system that worked as it should, not as it was designed, one thing sticks in my mind: there should be federal legislation to prevent murders of this type.

But there wasn’t and there isn’t, because once again the US let black people begging for assistance. The US should be ashamed of itself for abandoning the issue of police reform.

After Covid lockdowns eased and people got back together to do things other than protest, their priorities returned to non-interventionist normalcy. His racial consciousness induced by the affliction of not being able to leave the house was like a kind of delusion, the consequence of ideations about the end of the world.

With the world reopening its doors, elections looming, and crime and inflation rising in parallel, interest in police reform and protecting black lives from police violence has faded like ice cubes melting on a summer sidewalk. . And with that, the US received hideous lessons that do more harm to the struggle for equality than the protests did any good.

Black people learned the lesson that concern for their physical safety was just the latest fad. They learned that support received from outside groups can be transient and transactional—that some people join the fight when they are interested in it, and when their interest and energy wane, they leave.

Many liberal politicians showed us that their engagement with legislation to protect black lives from police violence was conditional on polls. They were not based on moral rectitude or fundamental principles, but on the public appeal of their ideas. When the winds changed direction, these politicians changed course, like a weathervane.

They were afraid of being labeled or identified as champions of a “defund the police” ideology. Rather than rebranding a laudable effort to allocate municipal resources more wisely with a more acceptable slogan, they took the easier, politically expedient course of action: They rushed to neutralize the idea by declaring their direct opposition to it – not defunding the police. , but increasing funds for it.

Police unions, too, learned a lesson: that they could survive the most intense and coordinated exposures of their practices that they had ever faced and still dodge federal legislation to combat the violence that occurs under their command.

Some states, including California and New York, moved quickly, while the topic was still in vogue, to rewrite some penal codes, and a few cities have increased citizen protections with initiatives such as strengthening “duty to intervene” policies. But there was no national police reform.

If there are any rare occasions to employ a cliché, this is it: they got out of a jam. If there’s a sliver of something positive in all of this, it’s anecdotal at the moment. It’s the impact Black women seem to be having in challenging the system when they have the power not necessarily to prevent violent excesses, but at least to punish them. The chief of police who acted promptly to fire the officers in the Nichols case is a black woman.

When Rayshard Brooks was killed in Atlanta, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a black woman, accepted her police chief’s resignation and ruled that the officers involved should be summarily fired. Unfortunately, the agents ended up not being indicted, they sued the city hall and were reinstated in the police force.

When a white Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, entered the apartment of Botham Shen Jean and fatally shot him, Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, a black woman, moved promptly to obtain a warrant for the officer’s arrest. Guyger was convicted of intentional homicide.

I don’t mean to imply that a handful of cases reveal a universal truth. I want to point out these cases as curiosities worth paying attention to.

Rather than pointing to a system that is evolving and humanizing itself, these examples only underscore the racialized nature of the system and the slowness with which it has operated in places where neither the people in power nor the accused officers are black.

The death of Tire Nichols is not just an individual tragedy. Nichols is a dead end victim of a predatory system that America has lost the will to confront. The untreated wound bled, and the blood seeped through the gauze.

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