Erikson Institute mourns the loss of Tyre Nichols, the young father, FedEx worker, skateboarder, and aspiring photographer who was brutally beaten to death by police in Memphis, Tennessee following a traffic stop earlier this month. His death at the hands of officers who are Black, like Nichols, highlights the ongoing reality of systemic racism in law enforcement. Whether police are white or Black, people of Color are targeted, victimized, and traumatized by law enforcement at disproportionately higher rates than whites.
Author Ibram X. Kendi tweeted U.S. Census statistics showing that while Black people make up 65% of the Memphis population, and 58% of Memphis police officers, they account for 86% of subjects of police use of force. “When you focus on the victims (instead of the identity of the perpetrators) when you study the gruesome outcomes (rather than the intent), it allows you to better see *all* the carnage and plunder from the structure of racism….” Kendi stated.
As part of an interview on the ABC show “This Week,” Ben Crump, attorney for Nichols’ family, called for institutional reform. “And so just as much as those officers are responsible for the death of Tyre Nichols, so is the implicit bias police culture that exists in America,” he said.
As a graduate school dedicated to improving outcomes for all young children and their families, our hearts break for Tyre’s family, especially his mother, RowVaughn Wells, who in her grief still thought about others’ children—calling the video “horrific” on an MSN news interview and asking parents not to let their children view it.
We embrace the slogan seen in photographs of protests following the video’s release around the nation: “All mothers were summoned when he called out for his Mama.” We would add that all parents, and all people who want justice have been summoned. Creating a truly just, anti-racist nation is arduous, ongoing work requiring systemic change at all levels—starting with individuals who acknowledge the reality of deadly bias in our culture. We cannot avoid the issue. We have been summoned, once again, by another tragic death, to raise our voices, to vote for change, and to love all children as we love our own.
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