I’m sure that many people only thought of February 1, 2023, in terms of the funeral of Tyre Nichols. Whether the date of his funeral was chosen randomly or chosen for symbolic impact, Tyre’s funeral was the commencing event of this year’s Black History Month Observance. Sadly, the circumstance of Tyre’s lynching rekindles the pain and memories of the horrors and brutalities that have been imposed upon Black communities for centuries. Those who value life deeply regret the loss of this young man’s life and the loss of his potential for good to his family, friends and the larger community.
Many whites will attempt to expunge any personal or systemic culpability for the brutal murder of Tyre by pointing out that the crime was committed by five Black men operating under the cover of law enforcement. Nothing could be further from the truth. More correctly, the perpetual and ongoing conditioned responses, corruption and contamination by the malignant institution of slavery (America’s Greatest Sin) continue to plague us all.
Throughout our experience in the US, Blacks have commonly been perceived and treated as subhuman. Our ancestors’ value was determined by the work they could produce or the number of healthy offspring they could breed. When they became independently expressive, ran away or actively objected to their enslavement, they were brutally beaten into compliance. Often, instead of “ruffling his feathers,” the Massa would have a favored slave administer the specified punishment for him. This favored slave could/would earn a special place in the Massa’s heart by demonstrating self-hatred/loathing and a willingness to serve as the Massa’s surrogate enforcer.
It was culturally accepted that the most efficient way to exact compliance from a “slave” was to beat it out of him or her. Whether sadistic pleasure was derived from observing human torture or from doing the dirty deed personally, “whippings” were more common than not. I believe that many of the whippings Black children received were predicated on the belief that beatings were necessary to achieve compliance. Unfortunately, this legacy of personal violence still festers among many.
Even the casual, OBJECTIVE observer can confirm the duplicity of punishment in law enforcement. For whites the “Serve and Protect” mantra of law enforcement agencies has been more accurate than not. As with policing, for persons of color, especially Blacks, the unstated objective was and is absolute behavioral CONTROL. Whether the goal was finding the guilty or someone to blame, it was easy to find “the target” among Blacks. More often than not, when all else failed or when expediency dictated, color was the determining factor. The legacy of that thinking has evolved into modern policing.
For the lack of space, I cannot provide reference for each of my postulates, but for those who contradict or wish to know more, references with empirical data abound.
As we assess the lynching of Tyre Nichols, the historic parallels are striking. As described by those who loved him most and knew him best, he was a free and unconventional spirit. His only crime lay in his Blackness. The group of “enforcers” Tyre encountered had no need to follow prescribed police procedures. Imbued with the notion of Tyre’s guilt, they turned this manufactured traffic stop into a capital crime event and became this young man’s judges, juries and executioners.
Sadly, this was not a tragic act of history, but a recurring event which threatens the psyches and personal security of us all. Like our parents, grandparents and those who preceded them, for the sake of safety, we are coerced into a state of imbalance and control. Our pledge for this BHM must be to force these recurring events into the malignant history of this nation.