I haven’t watched much of the coverage on the murder of Tyre Nichols because I just haven’t been able to. I saw about 30 seconds of the video showing police torturing and murdering Tyre and I just turned it off. It made me nauseous. I was angry, I was sad, and I was sick to my stomach. It is both shocking and oh so predictable. Yet, calls for more funding for police persist from both parties. This only sickens me even more.
My reaction though to this lynching was unlike my response to the lynching of George Floyd, which I watched several times and posted all over my social media platforms because I was enraged and I wanted every person I know – especially every White person I know – to feel that same anger, to see the racism and oppression manifested in yet another police murder. I wanted people – White people – to feel the deep sense of shame I felt and still feel because I benefit from my whiteness. This is something I experience almost every time I walk down Columbia Road where the Festival Center stands and I hear police sirens go by and I don’t give it a second thought. Police sirens have an entirely different meaning for people who are not White.
All of this takes me back to this same month in 2012 when a 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, wearing a hoodie, was stalked, hunted, and murdered by George Zimmerman while he was walking home from a local store where he purchased iced tea and skittles. This was his neighborhood, not Zimmerman’s, but because he was Black and wearing a hoodie, Zimmerman determined that Trayvon did not belong.
While I was shocked at the murder, no amount of outrage will ever compare to the moment that Zimmerman was pronounced not guilty. I was out to eat with my family and when the announcement came across the TV, I can honestly say that I had never experienced the feelings of sadness and rage that I felt at that moment. I was overwhelmed with intense anger and sadness.
The continuous lynchings of young Black men puts a knot in my stomach that will not go away and that is why I have watched so little of the coverage of the murder of Tyre Nichols. But I can still feel it. I feel the worry deep in the pit of my stomach. I wake up with it and I go to sleep with it. You see, my youngest son, Isaiah, is Black. He is in college right now in a small town in Western Virginia. It’s an academically elite college and I get nervous both for the small town White police as well as the rich, young, privileged white students he goes to school with. Racism is pervasive with both groups. Wealth and privilege are certainly no barriers to racism. And so, knowing Isaiah is surrounded by people like this gives a certain amount of dread I carry with me every day.
Even as I write Isaiah’s name right now – when I think about my sweet, amazing, incredibly talented and gifted little boy who is now a growing and grown young man, it makes me smile and cry. I do both. God I love that kid. He is such a gift to me and my wife, Marti and our oldest son Elisha. Technically, we adopted Isaiah, but he really adopted us. Every single day I get to be called his dad has been the greatest gift of my life. I am serious. I have these two amazing boys and each time they tell me, “I love you,” my heart swells with joy. There is nothing greater on this earth.
Yet, with that immense joy comes enormous heartache and that first happened for me with Trayvon Martin. While Black parents know the minute they have their children that they are going to have to give them “the talk” – the warning to always be mindful about where you are, who you are with, and how you have to talk to the police with the utmost of respect no matter how right or innocent you are or might seem to be. And even if you do everything right, things can easily go wrong fast.
My God, there are so many.
I did not know about the talk until Trayvon. As a white parent, our oldest son, Elisha, is White and he never got “the talk.” There was no need. But Isaiah gets it, probably too much. Or not enough. I never know how often I should warn Isaiah so I tend to do so more than I probably should. I tell him to of course always know his situation and to try and stay clear of ANY interaction with the police.
But I also give him a national context; that the United States has frankly never valued Black lives and that the creation of the police originates with slave patrols in order to keep Black people enslaved. Of course, it cannot be said that all police currently can be lumped into belonging to slave patrols, but it can be said – it must be said – that our criminal justice system has never valued Black life and that Black people – well, really all people of color – have to be more than innocent to not be caught up in this oppressive system. They have to be perfect.
Ron DeSantis does not like this history to be taught or told, but regardless of what he thinks, it is all too true.
We have to change the conversation when it comes to public safety in this country. For far too long politicians on both sides of the aisle have wrongly equated public safety with more police and more prisons. We have a criminal justice system in place that is designed to carry forward the goals of segregation when Black peoples’ lives were controlled and debased and devalued.
The historical and social context are important, but I am first and foremost a dad and so my highest concern is for my beautiful son, Isaiah, to be safe and to be happy. I would like to say I would be committed to completely changing the criminal justice system no matter who my kids were, but I would be lying if I said there is not an urgency to my passion. What has been happening for the last 50 years is not working. How many more Tyre Nichols have to happen before we try something different?