The death of Black people at the hands of law enforcement has become so commonplace and routine that many of us who are Black Americans have managed to become simultaneously outraged and psychologically numb. Indeed, over the few decades from Rodney King to George Floyd, we have become front row spectators to grainy and, in some cases, graphic footage of police officers engaged in horrific levels of violent behavior toward people of African descent.

We can now add Tyre Nichols of Memphis, Tennessee to the growing number of victims of a list that is already far too long. The world recently witnessed Mr. Nichols, 29, a Memphis, Tennessee native, being savagely kicked and beaten at the hands of five police officers.: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Desmond Mills Jr. as he cried out for his mother. Remember their names! They shall live in eternal infamy!

This recent tragedy garnered commentary from a variety of individuals from all walks of life. FBI Director Christopher Wray commented on January 27th “I’ve seen the video myself and I will tell you I was appalled.” Agreed, Mr. Nichols was attacked like an animal! The same day, the city of Memphis released footage of the three-minute beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols by the police officers.

According to the Associated Press, the officers have been charged with “second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.” Two other sheriff deputies, three medics Robert Long, JaMicheal Sandridge have and Preston Hemphill been placed on leave and the city’s controversial scorpion unit has been disbanded.

Sad to say, but not surprisingly, the standard police report of the incident was manipulated to claim that Nichols was armed, had tried to reach for their guns, was resistant to arrest and uncooperative at all stages of the incident. Fortunately, video footage that was released sharply disputed and dispelled false police allegations. The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the matter. The incident is unsettling on many levels.

Witnessing the news conference of Tyre Nichol’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, aching with piercing levels of grief as she dealt with a mother’s pain of losing a child (especially in such a violent and senseless manner) was nothing short of heartbreaking. By virually all accounts, her son was a good guy: a 145-pound skateboarder, an Instagram photographer, a Starbucks aficionado etc….

The fact (amazingly to many people) that she was asking for forgiveness for the police officers who brutally took the life of her son, and praying for their families, while simultaneously advocating for justice was indeed a surreal and inspirational moment for people across racial lines. It was a clarion call demanding that justice be served.

Interestingly, there are some people (in particular, White people) who are stating that racism is absent from the story given the fact that all officers involved are Black. How can a Black person be racist against a Black person? They ask. Well guess what? Black people, including Black cops can be racist against Black people. In fact, individuals of every race can harbor racism toward one another. Intra-racial prejudice does exist.

From the colorism (light skin/dark skin saga) to socio-economic and educational stratification to certain religious preferences (the latter three examples apply to all races and ethnicities) and so on, the Black community (like other races and ethnicities) has had its history of social and cultural divisions.

Black law enforcement has had a particularly adversarial relationship with the Black community, in particular, lower income and working class Black communities. In his iconic and critically acclaimed 1991 film, “Boyz`N’ The Hood,” the late director, John Singleton, detailed what he saw as the deep level of animus that Black law enforcement displayed toward their fellow Black brethren.

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Crime and Punishment in Black America, James Forman Jr, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School., details at length how Black police officers are just as inclined to harbor anti-Black bias a White officers. Forman is not alone.

In one of his numerous essays, mid 20th century intellectual extraordinaire, James Baldwin, recited similar sentiments. “If you must call a cop,” we said in those days, “for God’s sake, make sure it’s a white one.” We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared black cops even more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder - on your head - to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.”

The fact is that, since stepping foot on the shores of America, Black lives and bodies have been routinely scrutinized, objectified, sexualized and racialized. For many people, Black bodies and Black people, children as well as adults, have never been seen as fully human. All too often, we have been seen as men and women who are largely primitive and invisible, largely deprived of any degree of humane acknowledgment from mainstream society. White supremacy is complex and endemic.

There are police officers and other members of law enforcement who are decent, law-abiding human beings who manage to perform admirably doing a job that undeniably is stressful. There also is a faction - one is too many - of those with badges who adamantly and shamelessly abuse their power. Internal bias, cultural stereotypes and other factors notwithstanding, Black people are human beings and deserve to be treated with as much respect and dignity as any other group of people.

These killings are modern day lynchings. Such sadistic behavior and wicked disregard for people of color cannot continue.

BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Dr. Elwood Watson, Historian, public speaker, and cultural critic is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and on Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers. Cotnact Dr.Watson and BC.

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