Clergy Against Racism RVA

Trying to make sense of Tyre Nichols Death

Once again, this nation has been stunned by the open brutality and murder of a young Black man at the hands of overly aggressive and/or racist policemen.  Just two years, seven months and eight days after watching George Floyd die under the knee of a white officer, we were drawn to a video of five young black police officers brutalizing Tyree Nichols, a twenty-nine-year-old black man.

Although we certainly do not condone Derek Chauvin’s brutal treatment that ended George Floyd’s life, I do understand where such inhumane treatment came from.  It came from the heart of a white man that had been culturally conditioned to believe that he was superior and rightly justified to hate, harm and even kill blacks.

But what has left the nation confused, why would five black police officers fatally beat a young black man behind a simple traffic infraction?   As if the cruel murder of George Floyd was not gut wrenching enough for the African American Community, salt has now been poured into that wound as we watched five young Black police officers ignore the cry of Tyree Nichols, dismissed his humanity and brutalized him as if his black life did not matter.

Like George Floyd, as the life of Tyree was being beaten out of his body, Tyree called out for his mother, the one person that would have come to his rescue, if she would have heard his cry.  Generally, black men have a lot of respect for black mothers; yet those five black policemen showed no respect for the word “mother.”  How could those five black men hear another black man cry for his mother, and they continue to beat him for no reason.

African Americans don’t expect a black policeman to give special breaks or allow blacks to break the law and not be held accountable.  Due to a history of Black people being abused and unfairly treated by white policemen in this nation, we do expect black officers to treat us humanely and just, because those same black officers that killed Tyree know what it is like to live as a black in this nation and not be treated equal or just.

In an attempt to make some sense out of this senseless tragedy whereas five black policemen disregarded Tyree’s humanity and worthwhile black life, I have arrived at what I perceive to be logical reasons.  I want it to be clear that neither reason excuses the sinister act that took a young black man’s life.

Down through the years, there have been blacks that bought into the white man’s notion that the white race is superior and the black race is inferior, unintelligent, lazy and not fully human. The sad fact is, blacks who sub-consciously or consciously buy into that whitewashed hype, will through their own eyes come to view black skin as worthless.

 It is probable that those five Black police officers disliked their own skin color, which made it easier for them to operate within the guidelines of the bias police culture that exist in this nation.  A culture that dehumanizes Black people and treat them with contempt. Oftentimes, those blacks that are not proud of being black will attempt to ingratiate themselves to the white man by setting out to prove that they are different from other blacks, even if it means harming or debasing their black brother or sister or affectionately supporting white racist agendas.

Someone may ask, why would those five black policemen abuse the power invested in them to protect all people, savagely beat another black man to death? It doesn’t make sense, for they too were products of black families who were oppressed just for being black.

If they studied their Black history, they should have known that white racist police officers have often abused their power to oppress and destroy Black lives.  If they studied their black history, they should not have missed the fact that white officers have often operated with impunity as they terrorized black communities as if black lives did not matter.

The question still remains, why would those five black policemen act like Derek Chauvin and many other white officers who unjustly used their power to destroy black lives, often without provocation?  Let me suggest that those five black officers, who by the virtue of being black had experienced oppression at the hands of racism themselves. Somewhere along the way, they must have felt the sting from the abuse of power and white privilege; yet the five black officers seemingly took on the ways of the oppressor and proceeded to abuse their power against Mr. Tyree Nichols.

They not only abused their power, but the black officers also went against the wisdom of God that warns against the oppressed taking on the ways of the oppressor. Proverbs 3:31 says, “Envy thou not the oppressor and choose none of his ways.”  That’s what the black policemen did, they literally came from a race of people that had been oppressed and chose to act like the oppressor by beating Mr. Tyree Nichols to death.  God is not pleased with their actions, for Proverbs 3:32 according to Reuben Boyd’s Commentary says, “For those that take on the ways of the oppressor are repulsive to the Lord.”

Oppression is the unjust use of power at other people’s expense.  It involves selfishly protecting one’s power, security, comfort and privilege at the expense of those with less.  Those five black police officers who had experienced oppression themselves decided to emulate the oppressor and abuse their brother.  Their attitudes were influence by the many years of racism that has sanctioned oppression by an oppressor and fostered the idea that one group has the right to systemically oppressed another.

Racism is as much a cultural and systemic fixture in America as it is an individual ideology.  The impact of racism has shaped every part of our society.  One of the distortions of racism toward blacks in America is to depict young black men as dangerous; criminals to be feared.  Unfortunately, this stereotype has been embossed on the minds of some black people as well.  We cannot say that these police officers were acting solely because of racism, however, racism, along with a gang, pack and mob mentality, played a major role.  This is the charge that we have as a group; to identify, discuss and do all that we can to dismantle racism in individuals, in our country and in our culture.

Reverend Reuben J. Boyd, Jr.
President, Clergy and Citizens Against Racism

Bishop Larry Branch