The death of the police in Memphis sparks discussions about racism in the United States

Talks on Fox News over the weekend were less academic.

Tucker Carlson tonight Guest Jason Whitlock, a conservative sports culture blogger who is black, blamed “young black men and their inability to treat one another humanely” as muted footage of the Memphis officers beating Nichols played side by side.

“It looked like gang violence to me. It looked like what young black men do when they’re being chaperoned by a single black woman,” Whitlock said, referring to Davis, the Memphis police chief, who is married.

Focusing on the individual officer after the police killing, rather than the institution to which the officer belongs, reinforces the belief that the police’s problems are the result of a few bad apples – a narrative embraced by the police said Jeanelle Austin, who directs the George Floyd Global Memorial in Minnesota.

“That’s what I fear: What’s going to happen in Memphis is what happened in Minneapolis — as Derek Chauvin and the others [three] officers were indicted, the narrative went from a police department matter to an individual matter,” Austin said. “It was a PR strategy.”

A group of protesters protest outside a Memphis police station in response to the death of Tire Nichols.

A group of protesters protest outside a Memphis police station in response to the death of Tire Nichols.Credit:AP

“What we’ve been screaming out of our lungs for years is that the police system and culture trains people’s minds to behave a certain way, regardless of their skin color,” she said.

Systemic racism can be more difficult for the general public to understand than explicitly visible white-on-black crimes, said Craig Futterman, clinical law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, who studies policing and civil rights.

“We’d like to think in binary — the good guys and the bad guys,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to consume the story in a straightforward way when a white officer fires 14 shots at a black boy who is lying on the ground,” he added, citing the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald.

From the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to those in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, activists have long sought to reform policing. But the lack of centralization between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, coupled with the failure of congressional action, has not resulted in far-reaching changes.

More than two weeks after Nichols was killed after being pulled over for reckless driving, Ayanna Robinson drove 6 1/2 hours from Indianapolis to Memphis to attend demonstrations she thought would be attended by thousands of protesters who recorded about his Beatings by officials were upset. When she arrived she found dozens, not thousands, of demonstrators and they seemed calm.


Robinson, 28, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant manager, said the turnout was nothing like what she saw in Memphis after Floyd, a black man, was murdered in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020. In some ways, the city seemed too peaceful after Nichols’ murder, she said.

“To get a reaction, there has to be a reaction, and right now there’s no kind of action,” she said, looking around a park where 100 protesters gathered on Friday night.

Robinson said one of the main reasons she thought many people seemed more muted in response to Nichols’ death was because the five officers who were accused of hitting him were black. If the officers had been white, “all hell would have broken loose. The city would have been at war.”

Nikki Owens felt similar frustration after the death of her cousin, William Green, who was shot and killed while handcuffed by a black officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in January 2020.

“In America, we’re taught that racism is black and white,” said Owens, who now works with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. “And we are not taught anything about institutional or systemic racism, even though we see it everywhere. We’re taught that it can’t be racist for a black man to kill another black man. It’s ‘black-on-black crime’.”

Owens said this attitude contributed to her efforts to inspire activism among local residents and garner national and local media coverage of her cousin’s killing.

“There wasn’t the outrage,” she said. “Even when George Floyd died, no one contacted us.”

Owens said she felt the world viewed her cousin’s death somehow differently than other police killings. The criminal case against the officer begins this year.

“When I was out in the community and talking to people, I could see their reaction when I told them the officer was black,” she said. “And some people asked what color the officer was, which is another indication of this lack of understanding.”


Some protesters said Nichols’ death could be a moment for the nation to understand how pervasive, institutional racism works and how it can put individuals at risk, even though the racism is not explicit.

Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state legislature, civil rights attorney and CNN contributor, said Nichols’ beatings reminded him of black Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd’s back when Derek Chauvin choked him .

“He talked about how he thought he could make a difference in the police force,” Sellers said of Kueng. “And then, about three days after he was hired, he watches George Floyd being brutalized and does nothing about it.

“To many black people, a cop’s race is a cop.”

Jason Sole, a Minneapolis community organizer and former head of the local NAACP, said he never felt a sense of relief when encountering black officers.

“I never felt like, ‘Oh great, that’s a black cop, yay.’ no I was born in 1978 and I never felt that way, not once,” Sole said. “All your skinfolks are not relatives.”

Regardless of skin color, Sole said, “We need people to love, people to show we care, people to understand that grace needs to be shown to everyone.” The death of the police in Memphis sparks discussions about racism in the United States

Callan Tansill

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