I grew up during segregated times in the Black community and we had everything we needed. Being segregated allowed us to be a true Black community where we had our own schools, our own grocery stores, our own doctors, clinics, and so much more. It was a time where Black people were willing to help and support each other because we had to.
And when it came to law enforcement, we even had Black officers patrolling our communities. There were no White police officers in our neighborhoods. The Black officers were responsible for keeping us in line and arresting us if needed be. The Black officers were not allowed to arrest any White people and were not allowed to ride in patrol cars. Whether we liked it or not, that’s just the way it was. This scenario seems very familiar with the events that occurred in Memphis, where the five Black police officers beat Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was pulled over on Jan. 7 for reckless driving, according to police. He later died three days later from the injuries.
We can’t address crime outside of our race, until we address crime within our race. This goes for police officers or just your everyday citizen. If a White officer or individual kills a Black guy, it is wrong, and if a Black officer or individual kills a Black man, it is wrong.
If you have watched the video of Tyre Nichols, it is disturbing. It is sad to see that another Black man died by the hands of police. What does this mean? It means that just because these officers were Black, it doesn’t mean we need to be silent. In Memphis, and in other states across the nation, people are protesting and expressing their concerns and frustrations. For those protesting in Memphis, they shut down the I-55 bridge over the Mississippi River and chanted, “no justice, no peace…and justice for Tyre.” It is also time for organizations to step up just like they did when White officers killed a Black man. Where is the Urban League, the NAACP, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and many other organizations. We have witnessed too many Black men get killed to the point of it becoming part of our everyday life. Enough is enough. Now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to act and fight back against injustice. We cannot continue to sit around and wait for action to be taken. We must demand it and seek it.
The officers who were charged for Tyre Nichol’s death “were part of an elite unit known as Scorpion that was set up to crack down on high-crime neighborhoods.” This unit was formed in 2021 and has now been disbanded. When reflecting on high-crime neighborhoods, statistics will show that they are referring to Black neighborhoods. Why is it that only Black officers can patrol these types of neighborhoods? And why couldn’t five trained officers gain control over one individual? In addition, there have been some news reports that have said a sixth officer was involved who was White. Why hasn’t his face been flashed across news channels like the other five Black officers? Why are we just now learning about the sixth White officer? What other information is being withheld? It seems as if the narrative is being controlled and we are not getting the full story.
When these incidents occur, one may start thinking about their own local law enforcement and how they plan to address the issues that continue to arise. Chief Troy Finner of the Houston Police Department (HPD) said, “The Memphis Police Chief has fired those five officers involved and they have been charged with second-degree murder. Please know their actions do not reflect the great work the men and women do every day in our profession.” Chief Finner also asked those who want to “exercise their right to demonstrate” to do so responsibly.
When speaking with Dr. Edwin A. Davis, a Captain with Precinct One’s Constable’s Office and who was a police officer with HPD for 30 years, a Major for Harris County Sheriff’s office for seven and a half years, and who holds 48 years of experience in law enforcement, discussed his perspective on the issue. He first discussed the issue of the police shortage that is currently taking place and how the expectations and qualifications to be an officer have changed. He reflected on how when he applied for the police department, they did an extensive background check. “They investigated me, went through my elementary school records, talked to people from the church and in the community,” he said. He even mentioned how there were stricter rules back then like officers not being allowed to enter the police force with tattoos unless they were under cover and had to wear temporary ones. The rules were stringent back then and if you violated them, you were disqualified right away. He also discussed how not a lot of people are wanting to be police officers because of the anti-police climate we are in with police officers being killed and targeted.
When Captain Davis first started the police force with HPD in 1977, he was the 68th Black officer to be added to the force out of 3,000 officers, and there was a certain culture within the police department that revolved around respect and looking out for each other. He discussed how a lot of the newer police officers are younger and have a different view today in how they are handling and approaching different situations.
So, what can the community do to bring change within our community? We need to continue to speak up and hold our police officers and city officials accountable. Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith should be held responsible and deserve whatever charge and sentence they get.
When looking at the video of Nichols I was taken back to prior deaths that have occurred. One incident in particular was Rodney Green, a Black 49-year-old in Louisiana who was involved in a high-speed police chase, and it was noted that “he died on impact” but later it was reported that he struggled and spent his last moments being “kicked, dragged, on his stomach by the leg shackles.” We will also never forget the tragic death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.
We as a community must address the issues within our own race and not be afraid to call others out. We must speak the truth and stand up for what is right. This starts with learning our history, preserving it, and teaching future generations behind us.