For far too many Black men, the linked fate phenomenon will never require us to watch videos wherein someone who looks like us, walks like us, talks like us, or cries out for our mothers — like us — dies in order to know the ways that our lives remain interconnected. We already know.
We’ve known since Rodney King (at least). But no video — no police brutality scandal — can erase Tyre Nichols’ sheer humanity. He was a human being. And no police brutality scandal can erase our own culpability either. Our slow-burning desensitization must live within us as people, as human beings — and more to the point here, as Black men.
The Memphis Police Department’s murder of Tyre Nichols, abetted by the municipal EMT services and possibly the county sheriff’s office, is yet another recorded blight on our national disease of violence. It is an unbearable blotch on our nation’s Rorschach test that always presents the same results: Masculinity/manhood and violence are inextricably linked.
Most Black police have not internalized White supremacy to an extent that drives them to extinguish the life of another Black human being, but that’s most — not all.
An abiding sense of intrigue and interest was projected through the mainstream media’s coverage of the murder of Tyre Nichols. (He was a human being). Five (now former) Black Memphis police officers did the deed, and given America’s peculiar problem with anti-Black policing, five Black perpetrators of anti-Black murderous violence present a particular variant of the “man bites dog” news media phenomenon.
If Black police are killing Black people, then surely it cannot be racism that animates all of the murders and violence meted out against Black bodies. If Black police murder Black people, then how can it be about race?
This has been written. It’s been researched and it has been said: White supremacy can thrive in Black minds. Institutions — policing and otherwise, can indoctrinate Black people to be anti-Black. Most Black police have not internalized White supremacy to an extent that drives them to extinguish the life of another Black human being, but that’s most — not all. As the story continues to unfold, and as the trial/litigation processes begin, more information will become available that helps to unpack the complex of this inhumane moment in the history of American policing.
“We cannot live like this.”
But policing itself is not the total institutional problem with which we must contend going forward. We know that our society produces enclaves of toxic masculinity that must be confronted and eradicated if these brutal incidents are ever to be removed from our body politic. I have written about the toxic nature of masculinity before. Its enduring and evasive presence in our world is the hallmark of manhood in our contemporary moment.
Fraternities, many sports teams, and American policing are potent enclaves of toxic masculinity. These organizations and institutions cultivate environments where violence is conventional, de-escalation is discouraged and the knack for triangulating fragile masculinity through (relationships with) women is the modus operandi. In this context, the slightest perceived slight might lead to deadly outcomes; the appearance of weakness might be advantaged in mortal ways; or the basic onsite identity of an individual might be the trigger for murder.
Fraternities, many sports teams, and American policing are potent enclaves of toxic masculinity.
We cannot live like this. We (literally) are not living like this. We are dying. And Black men die in these toxic contexts more than any other demographic in this nation. It has been this way for decades. We inhale this toxic masculinity in our everyday lives. For Black men, this potent mix has disparate and deleterious consequences that will take generations to overcome.
Remember Rodney King. The media imposed the brutal beating of Rodney King on the American collective consciousness. I had to watch that video. I haven’t watched the video that recorded the murder of Tyre Nichols. (He was a human being.)
I didn’t watch the full video of the murder of George Floyd. I didn’t watch the Freddie Gray videos. The last such video I watched in full was that of Walter Scott, in 2015. I can’t even remember all of the names at this point. But the Walter Scott video — of him running away from a traffic stop and being shot in the back was too brutal for me. It let me know that I didn’t have or need to watch these kinds of snuff videos going forward.
“They all participated.”
And even not having watched the video, I know that the murder of Tyre Nichols and the recording of those murderous acts committed by Black police is the worst recording (on record) of police brutality. It is worse than Rodney King. It’s worse than George Floyd’s slow, methodical murder. It is brutal. It is utterly inhumane. And what makes it worse: it’s us. We have been indoctrinated by White supremacy, patriarchy, and our minuscule sense of masculinity. This indoctrination is so holistic — so complete — that we continue to embrace ideologies that breed violence directed at each other — as Black men.
Control for the internalization of White supremacy and the decrepit limitations of Black masculinity and you have what many might refer to as “Black-on-Black” crime. I say/write this loud for the people in the back: There is no such thing as Black-on-Black crime. There is neighbor-to-neighbor violence. There are men who are murderous. Most violent crimes are committed intra-racially.
What the murder of Tyre Nichols moves us to understand is that the work required to redress and right the wrongs of American policing (along with the various enclaves of toxic masculinity) is a charge to those men who are at the scene of these crimes.
If you ever had to wonder why activists call for defunding police departments and radically reordering how we protect and serve our fragile society, this moment is it.
One (of many) troubling aspects of the murder of Tyre Nichols (he was a human being), is that no one onsite intervened; they all participated. Even the EMTs co-signed the dehumanization. Not one person on video acted against the violence, assault and injury in any way commensurate with their training. This means that their training — the duty of care, and/or oath to protect and serve — were all outstripped by systemic ideologies designed to dehumanize Black people.
They did not just bear witness; they actively and passively participated. This makes the murder of Tyre Nichols unbearable — not just from the sheer accretion of videos of Black death at the hands of police, but also because of the sheer brutality and collective inhumanity of the perpetrators involved.
If you ever had to wonder why activists call for defunding police departments and radically reordering how we protect and serve our fragile society, this moment is it. If you can’t see it in the video of Black police murdering Tyre Nichols, then you might not ever see it.
Ours is a world where racism and concepts of masculinity truck in ultraviolent outcomes as a matter of practice. We need to come to terms with this. And we need to wrestle with the human responsibilities associated with our linked fates. We don’t need to watch murder videos to know that we have to be the human beings who make the interventions that change these mortal outcomes.
MORE COVERAGE OF POLICING FROM THE CITIZEN
Tyre Nichols's funeral service was live-streamed. Video courtesy CBS News