Fear, anger, and disappointment. Those were my feelings as I anticipated the release of the Tyre Nichols video — a video I could not bring myself to watch. I feared for the safety of loved ones who, because of their skin color, are perceived as a threat. I felt angry because of the blatant disregard for Black life in this country. And I was disappointed in the way the media was exploiting the death of Mr. Nichols.
This year will mark the 68th Anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till. Following Till’s murder, his mother, Mamie Till, made the courageous decision to have an open casket funeral to show the world the reality and horrors of the segregated, Jim Crow South. Images of Till’s mangled body were widely publicized and served as one of the catalysts for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the Civil Rights movement that would capture the attention of the country throughout the 1960s.
During this time, television began to replace radio as the major means of communication in the United States. Images of the Black freedom struggle were regularly viewed in the living rooms of Americans. Pictures and videos of peaceful protestors being water hosed, beaten, and having dogs released on them galvanized the country and helped bring about social awareness and change.
The beating death of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers and the ensuing media obsession over the release of the video showcasing his death was not in the same vein as the heroism of Mamie Till or those freedom fighters who risked their lives marching for justice and equality. The visibility of their actions helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On the other hand, the release of countless police brutality videos has not led to any significant national police reform legislation.
The broadcasting of these modern-day police lynchings instead follows a disturbing media trend that began with the police beating of Rodney King in 1991. Like Nichols, King was a victim of police brutality. He was unmercifully beaten by four Los Angeles police officers after a traffic stop, an incident that was caught on camera and aired repeatedly, nationally.
This trend of broadcasting violence against Black individuals increased with the prevalence of recording devices such as cell phones and police body cameras. Through such devices, we witnessed the assassination of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by the Cleveland police department and the killing of Philando Castile by the St. Anthony police department. We observed Walter Scott run for his life before a North Charleston, South Carolina police officer snuffed him out. We were forced to watch 17-year-old Laquan McDonald get cut down by the Chicago police department and witnessed Jacob Blake get shot seven times in the back by the Kenosha police department.
We witnessed the New York police department choke the life out of Eric Garner whose last words “I Can’t breathe,” remains a rallying cry for the disinherited. And none of us will ever forget the feeling we had watching a Minneapolis police officer kneel on the neck of George Floyd as he called for his mother.
Years of broadcasting Black pain and trauma led us to the recent media spectacle surrounding the release of the video of Tyre Nichols death. There was a countdown to the release of the video as if it were the release of an anticipated movie. It appeared that the media expected civil unrest and riots to follow, furthering the stereotype of Black people as violent hoodlums — an excuse for some to claim we are deserving of the brutality we face.
This media hype around the video shows how little value there is around Black pain and suffering. The more videos like this that are released in an entertainment context to garner views, likes, and clicks, the more disregard for Black life we will see in this country. With every video, folks become more desensitized to and callous towards Black trauma, making it easy to dismiss — not to mention the mental and physical harm it causes to Black viewers.
Mr. Nichols told officers, “I’m just trying to get home,” and like Floyd, he called out for his mother before departing this earth. The media show around the release of the video detailing his death was appalling. Black trauma should not be going viral or treated as weekend entertainment. All we, as Black people, want to do is go home at the end of the day and be with our loved ones.
I hope the media remembers our humanity before the next unfortunate incident of police brutality against a Black individual is broadcast for all the world to see. Instead of highlighting Black trauma, the media should turn its attention towards exposing a criminal “justice” system that incentivizes Black harassment, a corrupt police culture, and the inability of our political leaders to pass meaningful police reform legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.