Bob’s Blog: “Mom! Mom!”
I watched the video clip of Tyre Nichols’ deadly assault at the hands of police officers this weekend, more times than I can count. And each and every time I watched, it was searingly painful and horrifying – and for multiple reasons.
Watching as a parent, nothing was as excruciating as hearing Tyre calling out, on multiple occasions, for his mother. This was a call to every parent who would do anything to protect their child. I cannot fathom the pain of watching this video for Tyre’s mom, RowVaughn Wells, as his last moments on the face of the earth unfolded.
Watching as a Black man, I am forced to again and again and again to bear witness to the brutalizing of Black lives at the hands of law enforcement across this country.
Watching as a Black man, I recall the Rodney King video featuring an all-white group of officers administering a state-sanctioned assault on another Black man. In the case of Tyre, the attack was even more sickening and painful at the hands of Black officers.
Watching as a leader of a social-justice-oriented health foundation, I recognize that recruiting and hiring more folks of color to serve as police officers is a positive development in terms of representation. But hiring strategies can fall well short of addressing structural and institutional racism inherent across multiple systems, inclusive of law enforcement. This a reminder for us all that you cannot simply hire your way out of structural racism. This group of Black police officers was a part of a system and culture that has demonstrated repeatedly the inability to value Black life.
And watching the videos as an advocate for public health is a grim reminder that this nation is compelled to engage in transformational thinking and approaches when it comes to achieving public safety. This is why “incremental” reforms in law enforcement and criminal justice will fall hopelessly short of achieving true community safety. Communities must be the centerpiece of any discussion of overhauling of the definition of public safety, rather than centering on badges and guns. We need a much stronger emphasis on “upstream” and preventive community safety strategies such as accessible mental health and substance abuse treatment services, restorative justice approaches, community wellness, and healing supports, and of course economic inclusion/job training/housing supports — all of which constitute the most meaningful path to “safety” from a community perspective. And all of this is framed through a racial equity lens.
I am holding the family of Tyre Nichols in my thoughts and “in the light” at this time. And to those working at the grassroots level across our nation to reimagine public safety in our nation, fight on.
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