We’ve seen enough of America’s brutal policing
At 7:01 p.m. Friday night I heard the breaking news alert on my phone that signaled the public release of the video showing five Memphis Police officers beating, restraining and ultimately killing 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.
At 7:02, I put on my headphones, turned up the music and blocked it all out.
I would not watch the video and again participate in the continued traumatization of the Black American psyche. I’ve seen enough.
And I am tired of the same angry faces, the burning eyes of frustration, the violence of the voiceless, the desperation of a people who want only to be heard.
But instead, all we are is viewed. By those who watch on tiny screens and adjust the volume on the screams and the pleas. Who analyze the video quality and the alternate angles, searching for something — anything — that shows man’s inhumanity in a better light.
Police violence against citizens should not be a spectator sport.
Dashcam and bodycam videos were supposed to make policing more accountable. But instead it seems to have made Black people more expendable.
Because no matter how many scenes of brutal terror wrought upon Black men and women in traffic stop after traffic stop, the video does not stop. It keeps on playing, moving from city to city on a nationwide tour that showcases the failures of policing everywhere.
White police. Latino police. Black police. It does not matter the color of the face if the uniform is blue. The blows come just as hard and furious.
But we don’t have to watch every deadly performance. Because what else is it when police, knowing they are being recorded, still act in a manner that ultimately ends a life?
Memphis Police knew they had a blockbuster of brutality. An hour of footage showing the monstrous side of its men in blue. The department’s leadership hyped it with pregame videos of its own, with Police Chief Cerelyn Davis calling it “heinous” and then on TV, likening it to the video that showed the beating of Rodney King in 1991.
An instant hit. For some. “I’ve already seen how he looks. I already know what they did to him. I don’t need to see how they did it. And so I can’t watch the video,” said RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, in an interview with The Washington Post.
Understandably, Wells said she managed mere seconds before leaving the room. For the rest of us, what is our obligation to bear witness — to watch the unwatchable?
Eric Garner. George Floyd. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Terence Crutcher. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. I have seen them all and it is too many.
Black Americans have seen more than enough.
It is traumatizing to see yourself constantly in danger of dying at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve. Even a viral video that is not violent and shows only a Black man watering flowers before he is arrested by police, is still stressful to process and lands as a racial assault on black bodies everywhere. Studies have shown that racism and the perception of racial discrimination cause significant mental health issues from anxiety to depression to PTSD.
“There is a collective experience that is felt. It is every Black person realizing that at any point in time, the stories that have become all too familiar could be their story. It is realizing that people in the Black community are dying unnecessarily,” according to a report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on “The Effects of Racial Trauma on Mental Health: Deaths Captured on TV and Media.”
A study in 2018 found that Black people experienced days of poor mental health in the months following a police killing of an unarmed Black person in the state where they lived. There were no observed impacts on mental health for white respondents in the study.
It’s not just mental health. The legacy of racism can be seen in the physical health of the Black community with higher rates of high blood pressure and heart disease. Sometimes just hearing about another video of police brutality can make my pulse to race.
So I will not be watching the tragic, painful and unnecessary death of another Black man at the hurting hands of those who should be helping.
While that is my choice, I hope that some of you will bear witness for Nichols, for his family and for all Black people in America who deserve to be treated humanely.
Michelle Deal-Zimmerman is senior content editor for features and an advisory member of The Sun’s Editorial Board.