Reflecting on the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Black police officers, Natalie Zuze exhorts Christians everywhere to keep challenging the internalised anti-Blackness that allows such tragedies to occur
“I’m just trying to go home!”
Those are the words the 29-year-old Black man Tyre Nichols screamed at police officers as they pinned him to the ground in what was meant to be a routine traffic stop.
Instead, it ended with him being brutally beaten by the same police officers, who are now facing murder charges over his death. What’s even more upsetting is that the police officers were Black.
After all we’ve been fighting for, and after all we’ve witnessed - before and after the murder of George Floyd - how could they do this to another Black man, betraying our own community?
Systems and structures
Sadly, the reality is this happens, and has happened, for a long time. Police brutality needs to stop, regardless of the perpetrator’s colour, and it needs to be dealt with immediately. These police officers and others are allowed to continue; they thought they could get away with this due to a racist system and structure that allows the dehumanisation of Black people specifically.
There is clearly an abuse of power, but police have been getting away with killing Black people for years because of a powerful system. It happens in the US and here in the UK, too; to Mark Duggan, Joy Gardner, Chris Kaba and many others.
This same system has been in play for years and it wants to survive, so it gives the means, power, influence to operate within it, irrespective of skin colour. Remember the three men who watched their colleague kneel on George Floyd’s neck and do nothing? Two of them were not white, yet they were able to uphold ‘the laws’ of this system as George’s life slipped away.
In the case of Tyre Nichols, the perpetrators were Black. However, the real criminal here, and what we are really up against, is the white supremacist notions and internalised anti-Blackness that make something like this possible.
Now, let’s talk about the footage. I’ve not been able to watch the entire clip all the way through to protect my wellbeing. But I’ve read reports and listened to the news. The conversation around whether the footage should be shared is a difficult one. Without seeing it, we might never hear or see what happened to Tyre Nichols or George Floyd. But to see it repeatedly shared, on the news and online, is highly traumatic and triggering for Black people.
Also, repeatedly seeing these videos desensitises until they become just another clip of a Black man being killed. Black people will have different views on this because we are not a monolith. I’m not saying that others won’t find this video upsetting too, but please understand that there is a deeper level of consciousness for Black people when viewing content like this, as it’s our lived experience.
With the above in mind, the noise surrounding Tyre Nichols will get quieter on social media as people move on, and probably get louder when the trial of the police officers begins.
Protecting our peace
So what do we do? What can we do? How do we protect our peace while processing what’s happened? Some of us will want to get on with our day and not talk about it, as there is a strange comfort in that. For others, the thought of carrying on with business as usual will be a tangible burden. Some of us will pray. Some of us won’t.
I do not have all the answers, but I know where my hope lies and who to trust, no matter what happens around me. At times like this, I remember that God sent his only son to die for me and you, so that we might be free – which includes freedom from this world’s controlling systems.
I remember that Jesus hates oppression, injustice and racism! I remember he wanted us to treat each other with love and kindness; to treat each other as we would want to be treated. I remember that, in Christ, we are all equal. I love what John 15:12 says in the Amplified version: “This is my commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.” So, in these times, I try to hold on to these things and meditate on them.
Reflecting on racism
As kingdom people, let us use this time to come together and reflect. To make sure that racism and its structures do not climb into our church membership, congregations, ministries and leadership. If you’re a white-led church, check your leadership, your trustee board and your congregation. Might you be giving room for a system that allows only people that look like you to thrive or make decisions concerning your church?
If you’re part of a Black led church, how do your leadership, board of trustees and congregation treat each other? Are there Black gatekeepers or individuals esteeming themselves higher than the next person because of their position of power and influence?
This is why it’s good for churches to acknowledge when situations like this happen and have uncomfortable discussions. And it needs to be an ongoing conversation, not just during Black History Month or when another Black person gets killed.
Let’s not stop looking at ways to love each other better.
That is the only way we will grow in our shared sense of humanity and our love for each other in Christ.