“What did I do wrong?” – asked Tyre Nichols.

Mommy, when is daddy coming home?”

That’s the harrowing question that survivors of Tyre Nichols, a lanky 145 pound 29-year-old late – I repeat, late – father of a 4-year-old must answer. The other critical question is when will this senseless wiping out of Black people in America come to an end? Unfortunately, the answer to the latter question answers itself. You cannot erase history, can you?

So here we go again with another exhausting chapter in the convoluted history of race in the good ole USA. As the late civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired!” 

Nichol’s death marks still another in a spate of high-profile police officers accused of excessive force in the death of Black people. “The last words heard on the video that captured the incident were Nichols calling out for his mother three times,” said family Attorney Benjamin Crump. 

As I looked at the faces of those five police officers charged with Nichols’ murder, I was stunned and, okay yes, at some level disappointed that they were Black. Given the history of Black deaths at the hands or guns of white police officers in America – think Breanna Taylor, Walter Scott, George Floyd, Eric Gardner, et al  – it’s understandable to automatically assume who did the shooting and who got shot (or choked) to death. 

Obviously, Nichols is Black and so are the five officers who beat him so viciously. Thus, there is little doubt that this changes the public narrative from the more common narrative of white cops abusing Blacks. What defies comprehension is that these officers knew full well that they were be videotaped but behaved this way anyway.

Frankly, I was impressed with how some in the media immediately called out the proverbial, “elephant in the room,” Black on Black violence, thereby short circuiting the likes of the loudmouth, largely irrelevant, Fox News loving   Candance Owens and Larry Elders of this world who rake in big bucks denying racism. 

These five thugs – yes, that’s what they are – brought more unnecessary shame to a community that’s long been dealing with every inequality you can imagine. 

Now as I stared – strike that, glared – at the pictures of those five cops masquerading as police officers, I did this mental math; If we assume that each thug weighed at least 200 pounds and multiply that by five we end up with 1000 pounds of bulk, muscle and sinew beating the life of a man weighing 145 pounds soaking wet. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

As I glared at the picture of those five cops I badly wanted to ask them,  “c’mon dudes, what on earth did he say or do that led to beat him to a bloody pulp?” It would be good to know your answer to that so that parents can add it to their “what to do when (not if) you get pulled over by the police” toolkit.

So with every punch in the face and kick in the groin you delivered to Nichols, did the thought of his being someone’s son, brother or dad ever flash through your minds?  Did it ever occur to you what your acts could do to your families, burdening them with shame and embarrassment, let alone lost financial support should you end up in jail? What you did to that young man is pure evil, no more, no less.

Frustrated and at a loss for answers I reached out to several African American men – fathers them all of Black sons or grandsons – to help me try to make sense of what happened. Shock and outrage (plus a few profanities) were what I heard from them. 

“I was stunned when I heard this on the news,” said Dennis in Cincinnati who and his wife were viciously beaten by the police many years ago for a minor traffic violation. “It brought back some painful personal memories. And to be honest, I initially thought that here we go again, a Black person getting wiped out by the white police. Man was I wrong.” 

“Here’s my personal theory, said John in Chattanooga. “Cops like those who join the military, know the dangers of that choice and have been trained to do something when encountering conflict. To release pent up energy, some do so in  unbelievably destructive ways,” said John who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Viet Nam.

“I’ve seen some disturbing shoot first behaviors by soldiers that upset me immensely when I was in Viet Nam. I believe that there’s a blue wall of silence when it comes protecting rogue cops regardless of their race.”

“This to me looks like the vulture mentality,” said Chris from Waynesboro, Virginia. “It’s when one vulture draws blood from the victim and others rush in to join the slaughter, in this case with batons, fists and tasers.

In the end, all we’re left with is to await to see how all this will play out in the courts, in public opinion and, if history is a proven indicator, we’ll kick the can down the road until the next tragically unnecessary death of a young Black man.  

“What did we do wrong America? 

Answer me, dammit!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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