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Black Lives Matter: History repeats itself, yet again!

Dr. Neelam Batra Verma

February is Black History Month in the US and Canada and is observed in other parts of the world like the UK and Ireland.

Black Lives Matter: Tyre Nichol’s shriek “mom” “mom”….I want my mother”, will haunt his mother RowVaughn Wells for the rest of her life. Tyre may be 29 years old but his screams call for his mother to come to save him, like any baby crying for his mother, to save him from a bully. For a child, it is the mother who provides a sense of security; keeps their child safe, and is always the go-to person to seek support for any problem. 

Unfortunately, while his mother was just a few yards away in her home, yet did not hear her son’s screams. As the five Memphis Police officers belonging to the now-defunct Scorpion unit of Memphis Police, Tennessee, beat the thin and lanky Tyre to a pulp, his mother remained unaware of her son’s situation. 

Mother regrets not coming to son’s rescue

Videos released earlier last week from police officers’ body camera, shows the inhumane treatment and brutality Tyre inflicted during his last moments, on January 7, this year. How will this mother live with the guilt of not coming to her son’s rescue as he called for her? His cries for help, recorded on CCTV footage and a police officer’s body camera, will haunt not only his mother and family but also anyone who has the courage to watch those heart-wrenching videos of murderous screams and savagery by the five officers. For a mother, wife, child, brother, or sister, the pain inflicted on their beloved member of a family who was the baby for them all, can be nothing but traumatic to watch as the media plays out Tyre’s brush with the law, again and again. That too was just a few yards from his home where his family waited for him so they could eat dinner together, as they always did. 

What was Tyre’s fault?

The surveillance and body camera videos released are graphic and difficult to watch yet raise many questions. What was Tyre’s fault? He was just going home when the police officers stopped him, allegedly for reckless driving. Is there any evidence of his reckless driving? The tyrant police officers could produce none until the time of writing, also admitted by the police chief.  Talking to the media, Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, said, “Investigators have been unable to determine whether Mr. Nichols was driving recklessly. And the videos show that officers had approached his car with their guns drawn, while threatening and cursing at him, before pulling him out and pushing him to the ground.”

Why was physical force needed?

Anyway, when asked to stop, did Tyre not stop? Videos show he did. So why was physical force needed to yank him out of the vehicle when he was already complying? He was already pinned to the ground and could be seen obeying the police officers’ demands, so why was a taser pinned to his leg? Unconfirmed reports say that in 13 minutes, five hefty big men shouted 71 commands at a lone Tyre. The fact that throughout his ordeal, Tyre was polite to the officers, and not once did he yell at the police officers just shows the kind of respect he had for the law.

“I am trying to go home”

His cries of “what did I do? And “I am trying to go home” fell on deaf ears. The police officers instead of answering any of his questions continued to use force. For a short while, Tyre managed to break free and tried to run home as the police officers chased him with tasers drawn. He was caught once again and pulled to the ground. Despite being floored but still trying to obey the officers, he was pepper sprayed on the face, not once not twice but three times. One officer pulled and held him while another officer punched him also using batons until Tyre slumped to the floor. The now almost unconscious Tyre is dragged and propped against the police car while the officers stand around panting, making it obvious that the extreme force used by them on their victim, used all their energies. Was this savagery warranted? Tyre was a thin and lanky fellow and just one or two officers would have been enough to control him. And these were 5 big and powerful trained men of the law! Still, they had to use so much force, a taser, and pepper spray to handcuff him. The question still lingers – what was Tyre’s crime that he was sentenced to death?

The ambulance took 20 minutes to arrive

As the officers stand around, the video clearly shows that Tyre is in extreme distress. He is barely able to sit and slumps to the side. Instead of helping him, the officers stand around discussing their actions, nay, justifying their actions, smoking a cigarette, or looking for their glasses. It took more than 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive when he is finally taken to the hospital where he fights to stay alive for 3 days and then bids farewell to the savage world.   

Black Lives Matter movement

Had the five officers been Caucasian, the Black Lives Matter movement would come to play and cries of discrimination and racism would have filled the streets. Though protesters are already on the streets shouting slogans against the police, this is not racism as all the five officers were black men. All five of them have been dismissed from service and rightly charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping.  As the investigation continues, a sixth officer has been dismissed from service. Two employees of the Fire Department, who were the first to come to the scene, too have been relieved for now and more heads are bound to roll as the investigation proceeds. 

Kamala Harris at Tyre’s funeral

Tyre’s funeral was attended by the likes of Vice President of America, Kamala Harris. As he is laid to rest, questions are asked who was Tyre Nichols? He was just a family man, a free-spirited soul, who worked for FedEx, and every evening came home to eat dinner with his mom, who would keep his favorite chicken ready. He was a father to a 4-year-old boy for whom he was trying to make a living to give him a better life. He was a baby of his family, a good boy who spent his Sundays doing laundry and getting ready for the week. He loved to skateboard and spent his free time skateboarding in a park close by. He also loved to watch sunsets and would go out to watch them and take pictures. He was a budding photographer and would post his clicks on his website. Unfortunately, his sun set too soon plunging his family into darkness forever. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement has highlighted police brutality time and again

According to Statista Research Department in the US, as many as 1055 people were shot by police in 2022, with the rate of Black victims the highest. Since the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Furguson, police brutality has only gone up. The Black Lives Matter Movement has since highlighted police brutality time and again, with George Floyd’s death once again reigniting the debate.   

Though Black people account for 13 percent of the population in the US, they account for 27 percent of fatal shootings, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit group that tracks such shootings. Briefly, Black people are twice as likely as whites to be shot and killed by police officers. 

The debate about police brutality and racism

In an age of technology where every person walking on the streets carries a smartphone and is ready to record an untoward incident on their cell phones, where CCTVs dominate every building or store, or street, to expect that such an incident will go unnoticed is nothing but foolish. Who can forget officer Derek Chauvin when he pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, cutting his lifeline? The videos when emerged went viral creating havoc around the world. The Floyd incident renewed the debate about police brutality and racism while the Nicholas incident has once again highlighted flaws in police training. Ironically, Chauvin’s 21-year sentence in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights did not deter the five black officers from continuing with their savage behavior with Nicholas. Since all police officers in the Nicholas incident are black themselves, racism has taken a back seat.

Questions on police training

Nicholas’ untimely death has once again ignited the debate on police training and leaders are calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced after George Floyd’s death in Minnesota at the hands of the police in 2021. Briefly, the new bill seeks to address mental health care for law enforcement officers, hiring, training, and discipline practices among others. The United States House of Representatives introduced the legislation in February 2021 but was not passed by Congress as negotiations between Republicans and Democrats failed in September of that year.

As a layperson, I can understand that when men and women join the police service, they are always looking for some action. In addition, they are trained to do so. However, are they also trained to disregard human life; to kill with impunity; to badger anyone to death with no rhyme or reason without repercussions? Does it indicate that until now, the officers have been exempt from accountability? Are they allowed to go on a rampage killing anyone to satisfy their urge for action? So if there is no action going around, are they free to create one?

February is Black History Month

February is Black History Month in the US and Canada and is observed in other parts of the world like the UK and Ireland. The idea to create that month is to honour the African American community, and pay tribute to those who were brought from Africa and made to work as slaves in the 17th century. Black History Month was started 50 years ago and the month of February was designated to reflect on the contributions of Americans of African descent. Unfortunately, the reason the month is dedicated to remembering the events of the past is to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated, yet 50 years on, progress seems to be minimal. Even today when a black woman’s child goes out of the house, she sits at home worrying for their safety. 

The Black Lives Matter movement was expected to bring changes

The Black Lives Matter movement at the time of George Floyd’s murder had expected to bring a change in policing, but not much seems to have changed since. Millions of protesters around the world took to the streets asking for defunding of police and reallocating resources for social services and mental support for law enforcement officers.

Back then, George Floyd’s videos were trending and now Tyre Nicholas’ videos are going viral with the hashtag, Tyre Nicholas creating a new trend. Once again protesters are out on the streets demanding justice and the same story is being repeated. History is studied so its wrongs are not repeated in the future. Or will it? Till next time.

The author is a senior journalist based in Canada, she is the author of the book, 1971: A War Story.


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