Tyre Nichols: We want justice for Black History Month
The funeral of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man killed by a brutal beating at the hands of Memphis police officers, was recently held. His laying to rest took place just as black history month began in the US.
On the first week of the commemorative month, the family of Nichols, along with loved ones of other victims of deadly police violence, attended Joe Biden’s State of the Union address and had to listen as Congress applaud over his empty remarks on police reform.
This followed Biden’s recent meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus during which police reform was also discussed.
''Biden is upholding the long held and false stereotype peddled in sections of the media that black people are inherently violent and that protests called by black people are violent, which actually serves to justify the actions of the police against these communities. All the while, the cause of the outrage is dismissed.''
Forgive me for not leaping out of my chair at the prospect of all these ‘gestures’, and what may transpire from such “talks”.
Once again, we find ourselves asking the question: why does it take another black death in police custody for the most powerful man in the world to say something on the subject?
It’s simply not good enough.
A history of failing Black people
On his first days in office, Biden signed a number of executive orders to help groups in the US. Nothing substantive was offered regarding policing. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act does not go far enough, has stalled and clearly fallen to the bottom of the priority list.
The problem of policing, which disproportionately impacts black communities, has not changed at all during his term.
Last year was characterised by experts as one of the deadliest years for police violence in the US. According to recent data, there were only 12 days in 2022 during which someone did not die at the hands of the police, a public institution bankrolled by the taxpayer that we’re told exists to protect the people.
The opposite is sadly true, however.
The grim reality as we head deeper into 2023, is that vulnerable people such as black communities, remain susceptible to dangerous deadly violence at the hands of an organisation which not only lacks serious reform, but is also receiving more funding.
Such arithmetic only means the problem will worsen.
Biden said he was “outraged and deeply pained” by the video showing the beating of Tyre Nichols, before urging people not to resort to “violence” in their response to further trauma.
At this point, this is little more than a deluded insult.
Biden is upholding the long held and false stereotype peddled in sections of the media that black people are inherently violent and that protests called by black people are violent, which actually serves to justify the actions of the police against these communities. All the while, the cause of the outrage is dismissed.
Malcolm X explained it best back in 1962 when he stated:
“The controlled press, the white press inflames the white public against Negroes. The police are able to use it to paint the Negro community as a criminal element. Once the police have convinced the white public that the so-called Negro community is a criminal element, they can go in and question, brutalise, murder, unarmed innocent Negroes and the white public is gullible enough to back them up. This makes the Negro community a police state.”
Put simply, Biden’s appeal for people not to resort to violence, is what he should be saying to police departments all over the country.
Action, not words
Outrage at the death of Tyre Nichols is entirely justified. In fact, it’s surprising that nationwide mass protests haven’t already broken out.
Biden telling the grieving to remain calm in the face of state sanctioned murder is akin to liberals calling for tensions to cease following “clashes” when defenceless Palestinian civilians without an army are killed mercilessly by well-armed Israeli occupying forces.
Biden and other lawmakers are precisely the people who have the power to begin to change the system if they really want to. I think it’s clear by now however, that the president doesn’t intend to change the dangerous reality for black Americans. His sympathy is therefore deeply disingenuous.
It’s more of the same thoughts and prayers rhetoric, which doesn’t mean anything in the context of institutional racism in the US.
This is not to say that the Republicans offer anything better for black Americans. On the contrary, racism and white supremacy is a system which both parties in the country stand guilty of fortifying.
Perhaps black people would do better to look to the grassroots and encourage activists to seek political office in local positions in individual states. Some states have already begun to tighten up laws on policing, while diverting funding away from police departments without waiting for the federal government to lead on the issue.
The right candidates in the right positions as mayors, for example, can also empower local organisations to protect communities while instigating legislative change from the ground up.
Tyre Nichols and those before him deserve to have some form of political leadership willing to deliver justice. It clearly isn’t coming from Biden.
Black Americans deserve more than empty platitudes this black history month.
Empowering younger generations by fortifying them with the knowledge and tradition of radical black activists who walked before them is important because it not only prepares them for positions of power, but also teaches them to apply collective pressure. After all, the political establishment needs to be reminded that the votes they seek from the black community is currency that can only be acquired as part of a reciprocal transaction.
Tackling police brutality should be a top priority for Biden. Black communities must do whatever is needed to force his hand.
Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.
Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.