The recent murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis’ so-called Scorpion Unit is yet another example of the abuse of power that has affected black communities for decades ostensibly to protect black folk from themselves. If you consider that modern-day police departments are descendants of the infamous slave patrols of the South then it goes back centuries.
Of course, police are needed. And, yes, defunding the police was unbelievably bad messaging. But the issue here is both simpler and more devastating to contemplate. The government whether state, local, or federal is responsible for the actions of the persons to whom they grant authority to use deadly force. By doing so they give these persons, ironically referred to as “peace officers’ ‘ the ability to act as judge, jury, and executioner – a formula for disaster.
But this one should not, in my view, be charged to the police or bad policing. Because these were just a bunch of thugs with badges. But the fact these armed thugs are black is an insult to our ancestors so egregious that it represents a new level of our descent, as a people, into the psychodrama that is everyday life for some black people in America.
From time immemorial we have fought the twin forces of racism and white supremacy while suffering the violence and brutality of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, integration, and now disintegration. But the worst of these may yet prove to be disintegration – the loss of unity or integrity by or as if breaking into parts. We seem to be disintegrating before our very eyes.
Our ancestors always fought for freedom but more importantly, they fought for the survival of their offspring knowing that each generation that survived would have yet another opportunity to be free and to prosper in the land of our captivity and forced birth. They never gave up and we owe our very existence to them. They knew that even the Garden of Eden came with a snake. They knew there would always be traitors, turncoats, sellouts, and Uncle Toms
But they also knew that by fits and starts, we would eventually overcome. They anticipated our success but could also anticipate that having gained our freedom our young men would take up the honor and responsibility of protection from the unspeakable horrors of the slave patrols and night riders. What after all is the difference between beating a brother to death and lynching him outright?
Our ancestors are appalled and deeply ashamed. They must be asking can this be true? Have we endured so long and fought so hard for these young black men – the fruit of our generational struggle to disgrace us and our memory by taking us backward? Disintegrating before our very eyes. Not to mention the eyes of the world.
When I was coming up when my grandmother and other elders heard of an atrocity they would remark prayerfully “hope he wasn’t black” or “please Lord don’t let him be black!.” I still say it today. And I know that all black folk have the same question even if we dare not say it aloud. We cannot, we must not allow you to take us back or disrespect and disgrace the teachings and memory of our ancestors. You know and I know and everyone knows that you were taught better.
We have now and have always had a higher standard for ourselves. That we were taught by our ancestors that no matter what was done to us we could not, we must not sink to the level of our oppressors. Even in slavery, we were a community bonded not only by chains but by common struggles and the recognition that we cannot win if we fight, kill and steal from each other. No amount of disrespect justifies the taking of your brother’s or sister’s life. I said our ancestors are ashamed.
Tyre Nichols was murdered by a squad of thugs who just happened to have badges. They were an “elite” specialty squad sent into black neighborhoods to prevent crime – I’m not making this up. But those five black officers could only do what they did if they turned their backs on our ancestors. I said our ancestors, those who have gone before, are ashamed of us.
In ancient Africa, village huts were built in a circle around a central place. The entrances to the individual huts were built facing the center. If one of the tribal members transgressed the rules he or she was made to turn the entrance away from the center. This was often enough for the transgressor to see the error of their ways. This was the tribal way of saying we are ashamed.
The ancestors and all their descendants are ashamed of Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith.
May they be remembered for their infamy. The entire African diaspora turns its back on all of you.