A few days ago, five Black Memphis police officers decided that it was time to beat to death a young Black man by the name of Tyre Nichols. His offense was running away after a traffic stop – no other criminal activity was suspected at the time.
The recent tragedy in Memphis is part of a nationally historic tragedy involving Black men and women being killed by law enforcement for no apparent reason. This tradition goes back to the times when enslaved men and women who were fugitives from the horrors of the enslavement enclaves were captured, tortured and many times killed by the law enforcement personnel of the time.
This tradition continued after the demise of Reconstruction and the number of Black people killed “in the name of the law” rose exponentially. So much so that by the early part of the 20th century millions of Black men, women and children fled the South in what has been erroneously called a “migration” when in point of fact these millions of Black men, women and children were refugees from the institutionalized terror that was the American South.
In the modern error we witness the continued institutionalized murder of Black men and women – sometimes in the disparity that is so apparent in the Death Rows of America. Sometimes it is in the frequency of incidents like the ones that took the lives of Tyre Nichols, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd and sadly, too many to name. Yet there is a tacit national acceptance that the regular murder of Black Americans by law enforcement is an unfortunate natural condition – like occasional tornadoes, wildfires or hurricanes.
There have been calls for better “training” of law enforcement officers – as if law enforcement training currently includes beating unarmed suspects to death, or kneeling on the neck of unarmed suspects until they die or shooting unarmed suspects in the back for no apparent reason.
Clearly the “training’ that is necessary involves the recognition by white America that Black men, women and children are human beings. It cannot be a coincidence that, despite the fact that Black Americans are the minority of the population, there are so few white Eric Garners, so few white Sandra Blands, so few white George Floyds.
It is not just law enforcement training. It is the cultural training which results in Black Americans being considered “the other” in the land of their birth. It is the cultural training in the homes, in the schools, in the churches, in the universities and in the media that normalizes racial disparities in everything from infant mortality rates to life expectancy and everything in between including incarceration, housing, education, medical care and career opportunities.
Sadly, for too many Americans who presumably are men and women of good will, these disparities are viewed as a part of the American way of life. And it is certain that every movement to Make America Great Again does not include Black people – because there has never been a time when America was great for Black people.
Perhaps there will be a time when America will also be Great for Black people, but it will only happen when this country comes out from under the canopy of false and pernicious myths and finally encompasses the reality that change in America will benefit all Americans – change need not be at the expense of white Americans.
But no change will certainly be at the expense of Black Americans.