When I started engaging in public scholarship, I found myself frequently writing about police brutality against the Black community. My first op-ed was in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown. I wrote about why the Black community’s mistrust of the police was rational and justified. However, after writing so many op-eds about police brutality, I vowed not to write anymore because I said everything there was to be said.
My stance has changed after the murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Black police officers, which has once again reignited the nation’s attention on police brutality against the Black community.
As the details of Tyre’s horrific beating unfold, much attention is being placed on the fact that all five police officers are Black. What was the mentality behind their actions? What motivated them to act with such a callous disregard for Tyre’s life? Ultimately the race of the officers is not important and should not be the focus of this violent act. A young man’s life was violently taken. Parents lost a son. And a family’s life has forever been changed.
It would be disingenuous to say that race does not matter. As much as we want to believe that it does not or should not matter, race does matter. As a Black psychologist, I have been very vocal about the psychological effects of police brutality perpetrated by White police officers against Black people. This narrative has often focused on how implicit bias is the cause of White police violence against Black and other minoritized people.
However, I am also concerned about the psychological effects of police brutality perpetrated by Black police officers against Black people. What is the psychological impact of seeing a video of someone who could be your son, brother, father, or uncle beating someone who could be your son, brother, father, or uncle to death?
Clearly, Black police officers are not immune from the effects of implicit bias, even against members of their own community. This observation was pointed out by a former Black NYPD Lieutenant on CNN. Like many in the Black community, I want to understand how these Black police officers could engage in the act of violence against a Black man so brutal that it conjures up memories of the beating suffered by Emmet Till at the hands of racist White supremacists.