For a wordsmith who makes his living speaking and writing, it’s hard to admit when words cannot be found. That was my response to viewing the Tyre Nichols police videos. After watching them, I sat in dumbfounded silence. The only word that comes close to describing what I saw is horrific. Brutal, inhumane, and gut-wrenching could be added, but even those words don’t describe my combined feelings of anger and dismay.
And yet, in the midst of this, I also felt something else—profound respect for the response of the Nichols family. Their call for peaceful demonstrations to honor their son and demand justice for his attackers was a primary reason the response to the heinous acts on the videos was not more destructive. If my son were in those videos, I doubt I would demonstrate their maturity and temperance. Their example is an inspiration and a national model of grace in the midst of unimaginable personal tragedy.
In the spirit of their example, we need to demonstrate similar restraint in drawing conclusions about the police in communities across our country. Most police officers are good men and women trying to protect and serve their communities. I still believe that. I know too many of them personally to think otherwise. I see the risks they take, the personal and family sacrifices to do their jobs, and their frustration when one of their colleagues breaks the law. We must avoid projecting our anger toward the officers in Memphis on law enforcement workers everywhere, while also demanding those officers by held accountable for their actions.
Also following the Nichols’ example, we must allow the officers who have been arrested and charged with a list of crimes to have their day in court. They deserve to tell their story and have due process. Perhaps extenuating circumstances will become known that change some of our initial perceptions based on the videos. Perhaps not. Whatever happens, the survival of our social order depends on these issues being decided in court—not by polls, social media pressure, or riots. This will be an arduous process, but Memphis leaders should be recognized for their prompt initiatives so far in charging the officers and releasing the videos as an act of transparency and accountability.
The next few months will be difficult for the Nichols family, for the Memphis police force, for law enforcement personnel who must deal with the ramifications on the streets daily, and for communities who are reconsidering the role of their police. May we have the steely determination needed to confront these issues…and the grace of the Nichols family in how we treat each other while we do it.