I’m Sick of It
As I watched President Biden’s State of the Union last week, there was a point where the camera panned up to the gallery and focused in on Rodney Wells and RowVaughn Wells, the parents of Tyre Nichols. And as the President began to address the murder of Tyre Nichols, all those gathered in the chamber stood and clapped for Tyre’s parents. In that moment I could feel myself growing angry. I couldn’t put my anger into words, but a few days later I came across the article, “Congress Shouldn’t Clap for the Parents of Tyre Nichols, They Should Apologize” by Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation and Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center. Elie opens with words that eloquently summarized my emotions:
“I’m so sick of it. I’m so sick of the political platitudes offered by feckless politicians in the wake of the latest Black death at the hands of the police. I’m sick of the speeches. I’m sick of having the parents of the most recently lynched Black child trundled out at the State of the Union so politicians can disingenuously clap at their grief. What are they clapping for? Many of the people rising at the joint session of Congress to clap for the parents of Tyre Nichols did either nothing or not enough to prevent his death. Many of them will continue doing nothing or not enough.”
— Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation and Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center
That’s what I was feeling, sick of all the after-the-fact applause and gestures of condolences — at this point, they simply ring hollow. George Floyd. Elijah McCain. Breonna Taylor. Sandra Bland. Trayvon Martin. We’ve been down this road countless times, and not just within the past few years when cell phone cameras and the internet have forced the issue. The beating of Rodney King in 1991, the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, the countless black lives extinguished by the lynch mobs of Jim Crow and the master’s whip during slavery. No, I don’t want words of comfort from our politicians, I want them to stand up and do what’s right to fix the system.
In his address, President Biden stated, “Equal protection under the law is a covenant we have with each other in America.” The President also said, “Public safety requires public trust, which has too often been violated.” While these aren’t new revelations, I was struck by his use of the words “covenant” and “trust.” A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties, and it’s only as strong as the trust and commitment each party brings into the agreement. So, when the public trust has been violated repeatedly, where does that leave public safety, and thus covenant of equal protection under the law?
What happens is that black bodies are routinely brutalized by those entrusted to protect and serve. President Biden spoke of never having to give “the talk” to his children about how to survive an encounter with the police. However this is a reality for every black family because of a public trust that’s not only broken, but that has never existed. And really, how can black people be expected to trust the successors to the same institutions that brutally enforced Jim Crow laws and looked away when lynch mobs and slave catchers murdered black people?
I want equal protection under the law, and demand justice when police officers commit murder. Yes, in this case, the officers were almost immediately fired and brought up on murder charges (as it should always be when the evidence is clear), but would these actions have happened so quickly if the officers were white and not black? Will the wheels of justice move as quickly against white officers, or will the blue line again close ranks the next time a black body is brutalized by a white officer? Only time will tell, but odds are we’ll be right back to endless debates and political grandstanding in front of grieving families.
Law enforcement is largely left to state and local oversight, just like voting laws. So, just like it took the national voting rights act of 1965 to force state and local officials to open the polls to black people as guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution (a fight we are still fighting today), it will take police reform at the national level to ensure both fair treatment by police and accountability for officers that abuse their power and break the public trust. All of us have a part to play in demanding that our local, state, and national officials get serious about holding police officers accountable. Change won’t happen unless each of us takes responsibility to reach out to our officials and demand better.
CHHSM and the UCC have tools and resources to help, but we all must join the movement. Otherwise, by this time next year, there will be yet another family sitting in the gallery at the State of the Union, and polite applause will again seek to ease the ongoing pain and trauma of the people these same lawmakers failed to protect. Frankly, I’m sick of it.
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