The Police Murder of Tyre Nichols: The Sad, Yet Foreseeable Result of a Policing System Based on the “Slave Patrols”

By National Conference of Black Lawyers

The National Conference of Black Lawyers extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old son and father who was viciously murdered by Memphis police officers. This is yet another murder of a Black person by police in a long history of police murders most recently including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and Philando Castile. This is yet another indictment of a criminal legal system that targets Black people for racially disparate treatment, including excessive monitoring, longer sentences, harsher treatment and murder. It is yet another piece of evidence to support the abolition of the current criminal legal system.

Historically these police crimes against Black people have been defended by the state, for example, as in the murder of Breonna Taylor. This occurs most probably because the police primarily involved have been white. This recent murder of Tyre Nichols by Black officers is yet another glaring example of why the criminal legal system as we know it must be abolished. Tyre Nichols’ brutal murder by law enforcement, and the murders of many other Black people, are the fruit of the poisonous, racist tree of the United States policing and criminal legal systems. These systems are the descendants of the slave patrols used to enforce the inhumane laws of slavery. This system of policing is the bedrock of the criminal legal system. A number of studies and numerous case reviews support the conclusions that Black people are targeted for punishment, are punished more severely, and, are more frequently the victims of state imposed deadly violence either by the police or a punishment system that embraces the death penalty.

The fact that the murder of Tyre Nichols was committed by Black policemen, and observed without intervention by other policemen, doesn’t change the fact that it was racist and caused by a racist system. The history of racist oppression in the United States is replete with examples of Black people being the messengers and accomplices of a system that targets other Black people. The taking of Africans from Africa to enslave them in North America, included the collusion of some African tribes with white enslavers. During slavery Black enslaved men were at times promoted to “driver”, assisting the usually white overseer in controlling their enslaved brothers and sisters, using the whip as harshly as the white overseer. Similarly, post-slavery to today, some Black men with a badge of authority have sought to achieve the unachievable, being accepted as equals with their white counterparts, by treating as harshly or even more harshly Black people whom they encounter while wearing the badge.

Nichols’s murder is a crime that flows from the founding of the United States as a White Supremacist country. The United States in its founding embraced the socially constructed lie of the 15th Century white male created racial hierarchy, which promoted the lies of White superiority and Black inferiority. This white-male created racial hierarchy supported and justified the enslavement of Black people of African descent with all its brutality and devastation. These are the lies that allowed for the creation of “slave patrols “, patrols that were authorized by local governments controlled by the enslavers to chase, capture and often maim, enslaved people who were seeking the human right of freedom. These are the lies that many white people, Black people and other people of color have internalized as true and defend through their conduct. Those white people who have internalized these lies seek to maintain their artificially created status often justifying the maltreatment and murder of Black people. Those Black people who have internalized these socially constructed lies of White superiority and Black inferiority justify their maltreatment and murder of Black people because they believe these lies.

The current policing and criminal legal systems are direct descendants of the socially constructed racial hierarchy that encourages and justifies the maltreatment and murder of Black people. The police murder of Tyre Nichols is yet further evidence of the necessity to abolish this system that is poisoned by deep-seated racism. Evidence shows that efforts to reform policing by the Memphis police department and other police departments across the country have failed to end the killing of Black people. The firing of the perpetrators and subjecting them to criminal charges will not change the poisonous foundation of this system. The current policing and law enforcement systems must be abolished and replaced with ones that honor, protect, uplift and respect all people and their communities, regardless of color, social status or other indicia of identity.

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