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How We Talk About the Memphis Cops Matters

One talking point regarding this tragedy needs to be removed from the conversation immediately.

Protesters gather at the State House during a Juneteenth protest and march in honor of Rayshard Brooks and other victims of Police Violence in Boston, Massachusetts on June 22, 2020. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

As I write this, it’s nearly two hours until the footage of Tyre Nichols’ assault will be revealed to the public. What little I’ve seen of public opinion regarding this has already convinced me I don’t need to see more. A commonly raised “point” is evocative of many responses to the shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay earlier this week, regarding the races of the killers and victims:

“They were the same race. Just saying.”

What, exactly, are you saying? Is your glibness supposed to prove some grand truth? Do you think pointing this out absolves any of the pain being brought on the families involved, and the communities affected at large? Is your need to sound smart, to haphazardly “prove a point,” supposed to help anyone other than yourself?

When people bring up the race of the attackers, they think they are proving a larger point about racism (or a perceived lack thereof), thus proving that mass shootings and police brutality are not invoked by racial aggression or institutional violence. They think, if people of color are precipitating acts of hatred, especially against members of their own communities, they’re not only proving that institutional racism doesn’t exist: they’re “proving stereotypes right.”

Such a flimsy argument, only serving to bring comfort to those who don’t want to think more about such a terrible series of events. It can be painful to acknowledge and confront the very dangerous times we live in, and the things that are so deeply ingrained in our world that allow such tragedies to keep happening, but that does not mean it’s at all appropriate to make such vile assumptions instead. The America we live in is defined, and operates by, systems and ideologies that pit people of color against one another, and the evidence of this can be traced back to the very foundations of our nation. In a system built to benefit its colonizers, we are expected to adapt and assimilate, and in the process it is almost impossible not to step on the toes of others in our communities, or in other communities.

My heart was so, so heavy earlier this week, to the point where I could barely bring myself to think of the killings that occurred. But ultimately, this country makes it easier to turn on our own communities, with violence that is encouraged by our very constitution, than to actually heal and fix our communities. The latter is not impossible, as I have seen community building efforts that have saved people and made their lives better. But the former has continued to be easier, all the same.

In saying this, I am in no way attempting to absolve the police involved. But it is so endlessly frustrating to have to endure so many coldhearted, callous people trying to write these tragedies off simply because the killers were not white. This is an incident that implicates the nation as a whole. It is a result of a lack of care taken to fix the way we police and the way we train our police. It does not undermine, belittle, or subvert the tragedies beset by police in the past.

My heart goes out to Nichols’ family, and to any and all affected by this tragedy. Everyone, please be mindful of how what you say will affect others. This is not the time to be callous.

(Featured Image: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.

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