This column appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News. Given that this is mostly what the world is focused on right now, Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, Ala., and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, talk about the death of Tire Nichols at the hands of police.
By Guy Trammell Jr.
My brother, working with SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), in the 1960s experienced police violence constantly. His most irritating incident involved a Black officer pulling him over, throwing him to the ground, and pressing his head into the road’s hot asphalt with the butt of a shotgun. As he described it at the time, I felt myself experiencing the shock of this incident.
My brother’s crime was voter registration, and he had worked to get this officer hired, but the voice at the other end of the shotgun yelled out, “Don’t you be causing no problems, you hear!”
The racist nature of police killings is not about who perpetrates the killing. What makes it racist is who is getting killed. If you lived in a town where 30% of people killed by the police were your cousins, siblings, uncles and grand parents, it wouldn’t make things better when the police officer, who is your step-father, kills your great aunt.
Police violence and systemic racism are public health issues that need to be addressed. “Fatal Police Violence by Race and State in the USA, 1980-2018” in The Lancet, Sept. 28, 2021 reported that police violence caused over 30,000 deaths between 1980 and 2018. During this period, police violence against Blacks increased each year. Police kill Black people 3.5 times more than white people. Police kill Hispanic and indigenous people twice as much as white people. The US has five times the police violence of all other high income countries.
On Jan. 26, Anthony Lowe, Jr., a double amputee, holding a knife, was murdered by California police as he tried to run away. Thirty-four percent of unarmed civilians killed by police are Black.
The social environment at all workplaces, have rules and expectations set by dominant employees or by accepted traditions. US systemic racism dictates that law enforcement treats Blacks as less than human. That’s why Black city council members have been assaulted by police and why police are not assaulting and shooting residents in white neighborhoods.
Tire Nichols died at the hands of Black police officers who obeyed the racist US rules of engagement towards Black people. A human’s life was snatched away, and society just goes on.
Qualified immunity of police should be cancelled. Body cams and anti-bias training must be mandated. Maybe legislators should lose a percentage of their pension for every controversial killing by police officers in their District, because NOTHING IS BEING DONE!!! This year, by January 25, the police had killed 79 people. Does anyone care???!
By Amy Miller
Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”-James BaldwinI met a college student from southern Asia recently. He attends a small college in an idyllic rural town. His mother was beside herself that he wanted to go to college in America. How would her son fare in this country that has 4 percent of the world’s population but 13 percent of the deaths at the hands of the police. How would her son, her brown son, stay safe in a country where Black men are up to 3.5 times as likely as white men to be killed by police. When I heard the police officers who bludgeoned Tyre Nichols to death were Black, my heart sank. The color of the officers would be a distraction. We need to avoid distractions and look at what we know. We know police are trained for highly volatile situations but often are called to handle situations that don’t call for force. Police regularly address domestic disputes, traffic violations, the mentally ill, the homeless and people with addictions. The US accounts for a higher percentage of the world’s deaths at the hands of the police than its population represents. Ten percent of deaths by police in this country occur after stops for traffic violations. We know that. We know that Black men are more likely to be pulled over for traffic violations and more likely to get killed when they are pulled over. There was Patrick Lyoya, 26, shot in the back of the head by an officer who pulled him over for a mismatched license plate; and Daunte Wright, 20, killed after being pulled over for an expired registration tag; and 32-year-old Philando Castile, dead after an officer stopped him because, with his “wide-set nose,” Castile looked like the suspect in a robbery.
And so it is, Black Americans, and Black men in particular, are not treated as equal citizens. It is not always, perhaps not even usually, a conscious choice to see a person as inferior. Rather than proving that the problem is not racism, the fact that the police officers who killed Nichols were Black proves that no one is exempt from our national mindset.
We all grew up watching television, news, board rooms and politicians painting a picture of hardworking white people raising children and running the country and of poor black folks taking drugs, committing crimes and abandoning their children. These are painfully misleading images. But they are images that have long captured the American imagination, and the damage these images did is unfathomable.
Writer James Baldwin, whose essays in the 50s and 60s helped break down the nation’s color barrier, was discouraged by the glacial pace of change. But Baldwin knew the only alternative to working to make things better was abdication of responsibility.
We may never have a perfect union, but it’s time to start again. It’s time to keep trying.
Amy and Guy can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Reflections on Tyre Nichols, policing in America: Color Us Connected