Tyre Nichols killing shows that to some cops, even Black ones, Black lives don't matter

If you want to understand why so many Black people don’t trust the police, why so many of us, when we pass a cop car, or are stopped by one, feel our hearts race, even though we know we did nothing wrong, and we look at our kid in the back seat and tell them to stay calm.

If you want to truly understand why so many of us think police officers see us as animals. As things to be dispatched, or strangled, or sent to our deaths after a hail of bullets in our backs or kicks to our sternum. Killed for holding a bag of Skittles or a toy gun or, many times, nothing at all. If you want to understand why we think cops see us as lower than white people. Lower than all people. Lower than dirt.

If you want to understand all of that, there’s one particular part of the horrid, hourlong video showing the beating death, or actually, the alleged on-screen murder of Tyre Nichols, you need to focus on.

Nichols, 29, is handcuffed and seated on the ground, moaning in pain and bloodied, after the brutal attack by the officers, five of whom would later be charged with second-degree murder. Nichols begins to fall over, and one officer tells Nichols to sit up. There’s no compassion or, at this point, aid given. The police are standing around and talking like they just watched the Tennessee Titans game.

Tyre Nichols was offered little humanity

Nichols begins to fall over again. After all, he is badly beaten. And again, there is little humanity shown Nichols. In fact, he is actually taunted by one person at the scene.

The cops in the video act like a gang. They look like goons.

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Press conference: FBI director 'appalled' by the Tyre Nichols traffic stop video involving Memphis PD

In that moment, you see how Black lives don’t matter to these police. In that moment, you see with extreme clarity what centuries of dehumanization looks like, what seeing Black bodies as less than looks like, and it doesn’t matter if the cops are Black. Once some Black cops become part of that system, they dehumanize themselves, too. Black people, their own people, become the enemy.

Earlier in the video, one cop says: “I hope they stomp his ass.” One street cam video shows a cop repeatedly kicking Nichols in the head. He is also hit in the face with some type of baton. Later, Nichols calls out for his mom.

Protesters rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27, 2023, after Memphis, Tenn., released police body camera footage of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.
Protesters rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27, 2023, after Memphis, Tenn., released police body camera footage of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.

There are several historical markers in the centurieslong bloody timeline that is the interaction between police and Black people. Some of the more recent include the 1991 attack on Rodney King and of course the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

The killing of Nichols will be another one of those markers because of the callousness and viciousness displayed by the officers. We will look back at this moment as one of the ugliest we’ve experienced as a nation.

“It was obvious to me,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis told NBC News on Friday, “that what I saw was beyond the scope of what is condoned in this police department, in any department that I’ve ever worked in before. … Completely next level. Completely outside of, you know, humanity. I’m not even gonna say training. I mean humanity.”

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The mayor of Memphis, Jim Strickland, said he was stunned by what he saw. He told The Commercial Appeal on Friday: “My first emotion was sadness – sadness for Tyre – watching him go through what he was going through. And then some disbelief. It's just beyond anything I've ever seen. Then it turned into anger that a fellow human being was treated that way.”

How did traffic stops become executions?

The killing of Black people at the hands of police happens everywhere, from the West Coast to the East, from the Midwest to the Southwest.

The attack on Nichols has been compared to the beating of King. What’s remarkable, however, is the police who beat King didn’t know they were being videotaped. These police were using bodycams. They knew their actions were being recorded and they still behaved like that.

How does a traffic stop become an execution? For Black and brown people, it does because we are Black and brown. How is it, it seems, that we die over so little? Or nothing at all? See previous answer.

Police kill far too many people during traffic stops: We must change why stops are made.

A family asked police to help man struggling with mental illness: Instead, they shot him.

There’s not even proof (so far) of a traffic violation committed by Nichols. That’s because some police don’t feel that they need one when it comes to us. We’re not Americans or fellow citizens. The Constitution isn’t for us. Rights? We don’t have rights.

If there’s one thing we need to always remember is that Nichols was a person. He was a father. He loved to skateboard. He existed.

He mattered. Black lives do. No matter how much it seems to police that they don’t.

Mike Freeman is the race and inequality editor for USA TODAY Sports.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tyre Nichols killing, video show how Black lives don't matter to cops