This weekend, the Memphis police department released the video footage of the brutal police attack that led to the death of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old Black man was beaten by 5 police officers, who are also Black, after they pulled him over for driving recklessly(this fact is still up for debate). I scrolled through social media as news outlets and Twitter prepared for the release of this footage. Police departments across the country prepared for violent protests as citizens would begin to process yet another video of an unarmed Black man in a confrontation with the police.
As I write this, I have yet to see the video. I don’t need to watch another video when I’m still processing the video of George Floyd being murdered or the video of Eric Garner being murdered. I’m still processing hearing the audio of Trayvon Martin when he was murdered by George Zimmerman. And while the use of police cameras is meant to provide transparency and accountability to the public they have sworn to protect, all these images do are create trauma in the bodies of Black people. This country thrives off the pain and trauma of Black people. This video could have been released at any point, but by setting a time and date for when the video would be released it puts the responsibility on the public to act accordingly. We are asked to protest peacefully, but the same people asking us to protest without violence are not asking police officers to carry out their duties with the same level of respect.
During the Jim Crow era, lynchings of Black people were public spectacles. Announcements were made in the paper and white people would get dressed up and watch as a Black person was murdered. There would then be postcards sent with the images of these murdered bodies to other family members and friends. This video release and others like it remind me of these lynchings and postcards. Spectacles where the public can see the pain and plight of Black people, but the pain of my people is not meant for public consumption. The pain of my community is not meant for your entertainment. The tears that we cry are very real and the pain that we carry is a burden too great to bear. I am heartbroken that I even must write these words and wise enough to know that this will not be the last Black person murdered by the police. The fact that the police officers were also Black makes no difference. America’s police departments have showed us time and time again that they put being blue above anything else.
These videos do not provide accountability. They are clickbait for media companies and social media. They are reminders to the Black community that we are expected to stay in line unless we want to end up like this latest victim. Our bodies are seen as threats. Our presence is seen as a challenge. Our communities have always been overpoliced because our police departments were never created for us. They grew out of slave patrols and were created to protect property, not people. A thing cannot be anything other than what it was created to be. No matter how you may try to change it.
It’s hard to see images like this and still be expected to function, but I think that’s part of the point. If you are always fighting for your rights, protesting, and marching you remain in a state of survival; you’re never able to thrive. And that is what systematic racism does, it creates a perpetual state of survival. The fact that Black people have been able to thrive is not because of an absence of struggle, but despite it.