Frasier HortonTuesday, January 31, 2023
There are so many ways that I could start this piece because as I type it, I’m filled with so many emotions. On one hand, the video of Tyre Nichols being beaten for that long filled me with a despair I haven’t felt since watching the George Floyd video. On the other, I have this eerie feeling that this is the standard; a black man being killed by the cops is just something that happens in America, just as common as a rainy day. I’m so tired of looking at all these protests and riots, and I’m tired of seeing all these “we need to defund the police” arguments, but the one I’m most tired of is the one I agree with: “we need to reeducate the police.” I'm tired of that because I don’t believe there will ever be headway on it. Call it sad, call it dejected, it really is just where I am right now. Why I’m writing this, I still don’t know; I feel a responsibility to tell the truth and the facts of this case, and I started out intending to write a straight news report, but this one is emotionally scarring to me, so I apologize for any bias that slips out.
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and Instagram photographer, was a father of a four-year-old. He was pulled over on January 7 for alleged reckless driving on his way back from taking pictures of the sky at night. According to multiple news outlets, at 8:24 p.m., he was taken out of his car and into a physical confrontation with five police officers. He was pinned to the ground, beaten, pepper sprayed, and Tased within the next four minutes. He attempted to run and made it a quarter of a mile before the police apprehended him again, this time encouraging each other to beat Tyre. By 8:37, he was immobilized against the police vehicle as the police were recounting stories of their individual attacks. At around 9:18, he was transported to St. Francis Hospital after he complained of shortness of breath. Three days later, he was dead. His autopsy report showed he suffered “excessive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” Throughout the entire beating, Tyre did not appear to strike any of the officers or attempt to take any of their weapons.
The release of police body cam footage was strategically planned with the George Floyd public outcry in mind. The video was released at 6 p.m. on January 27; that time was chosen by Memphis officials because schools would already have been dismissed, and most people would be home from work so people could escape the violence they anticipated. According to a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman, “the event [did not] constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of the law.” By the January 28 there were already protests occurring in many major American cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Now in my opinion, the most important living character in this case is the one Tyre was calling out for: his mother. After watching the body cam footage, I immediately went to the mother’s interview on CNN to hear her thoughts. Tyre was often described as a momma’s boy and you can tell that's true by the way she talked about her son. She went through the whole interview with a sadness only a mother who lost a son could have, but she still called for peace during the protests. And then I heard something that really flipped everything over. Tyre's family would accept second-degree murder charges instead of first-degree murder charges because those “are the ones that would stick." This was a beating, a mauling, a gang-up, and if it’s determined that there truly was no probable cause, it’s a straight up abuse of power. Do you know what it’s like to watch your son be jumped by officers of the law and then settle for second-degree murder? I can only imagine what it was like for her to hear that her son wouldn’t receive the justice he deserved.
So, what now? The NBA has already recognized Tyre by having a moment of silence before the Memphis Grizzlies played the Minnesota Timberwolves (Minnesota again? Irony’s a jerk). Tyre’s mother has started a GoFundME account that has gained over a million dollars as of this writing. We’ll see state and national officials call for change in policy, we’ll see attorney Benjamin Crump on the TV telling us to call out the culture of our institutionalized police force. It’s the same cycle of things happening repeatedly. It feels like every six months or so something like this happens, and you know what? I’ve become pretty keen to what may happen over the next week or so, let me explain. You’ll see profile picture changes to pictures of Tyre, you’ll see Instagram stories with updates on this case, you’ll see celebrities expressing their support for Tyre’s family or donating to Tyre’s GoFundMe. But the one thing I can’t predict is whether the policemen will be convicted of their charges. Don’t you dare think that this is an open and shut case, because they never really are. Don’t think that the body cams or the sky cams prove that this case is over, because it’s not. I implore you to watch this case and look at it as it unfolds, but don’t be surprised if the officers get away with manslaughter or something, because it’s so plausible it hurts.
I remember watching the body cam footage on January 28 at around 2 p.m. and wanting to write an article about it, just to write kind of what I was feeling at that time. And it wasn’t really until I was leaving for my school’s homecoming dance that I started to feel an anxiety that I hadn’t really experienced before. I had watched George Floyd’s footage but felt like what happened to him couldn’t ever happen to me if I used real money and didn’t resist law enforcement. But this was over a “possible” reckless driving encounter, and they beat him to a pulp with his only form of "resistance" his running away. As a black motorist, I could have been Tyre, and it could’ve happened over something as simple as driving to my school homecoming dance. As I was driving, I noticed I wasn’t playing my music loud at all. I was drumming on the steering wheel instead, and I was going ten under the speed limit because that could’ve been me. It was an anxiety I know so many others were feeling at that time, and something that will probably stick with me the rest of my life.
In the beginning of this article, I said was going to list all the important facts, the things you needed to know about this case. I lied. I didn’t tell you that all five officers were black. I didn’t tell you that Tyre Nichols was 6'3" but only 150 pounds and suffered from Crohn’s disease. I didn’t tell you about the expletive-riddled language the cops called him as they beat him to his demise. I didn’t tell you about the other firemen or paramedics on the scene.
Because now it just doesn’t matter. This wasn’t racism or a hate crime; it’s the way we teach (or allow) officers of the law to control the situation. As far as a solution goes, it’s hard to say, and my inexperienced self will not be the one to have the answer. But as we watch this case unfold, I hope its outcome will play an important role in the journey to end police brutality, for the sake of Tyre's mom, and my mom, and black mothers everywhere.
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