CEO Note: Tyre Nichols, Unconditionally Loved 

Today I reach out to you all with a heavy heart as we process the brutal killing of yet another Black man, at the hands of the police. In this case, that young man is Tyre Nichols and the police charged are five officers from the Memphis police department. To say that I, like so many of you, am hurting does not adequately describe the depth of the collective hurt that lives in the hearts of Black people. Words cannot describe the particularly unique combination of pain and weariness that comes from this wound that cuts so deep and so often. If it were possible to look into the souls of Black folk, the place where excruciatingly painful historical memories reside, I imagine we would see so many sickening images of the destruction of Black bodies that it would be hard to fathom that there is any real justice in this world. 

Over the past few days, as an imperfect human being, father, son, brother and husband, I have felt frustration, anger, and sadness. As a Black man, I have felt irrepressible rage, despair, and a sorrow so deep that I cannot fashion the words to describe it. To deny these feelings would be to deny the part of myself that is connected to every other Black man and Black boy who has drawn a breath and been brutalized and killed by police in this country. 

Much has been made of the race of the police officers that are accused of perpetrating this heinous act. I have even heard some say that because the officers involved were Black, this is a problem of police culture and not of race. To be clear, policing culture that allows for the systematic brutalization and murder of Black people in general and Black men in particular can only be about race. If police officers are conditioned to think “other” when they encounter Black people in the community–with the “other” being something less than themselves–then the word you replace the “other” with does not matter, e.g., the “criminal,” the “thug,” etc. The dehumanization of the “other” will always be the by-product, with the race of those charged with administering the inhumanity not mattering one bit. Black men are the ultimate “other” in a deeply structurally racist society. 

Structural racism is predicated on the power of dehumanizing people. Structurally racist systems help create the dehumanizing narrative in the heads of many police officers, regardless of their race, that Black men like Tyre Nichols are the “other,” inherently lesser-than and criminal, and when stopped deserve to be punished when they make officers angry. Structurally racist systems help foster the dehumanizing narratives that men like Tyre Nichols and George Floyd are not worth accounting for and are both unloved and unlovable so that there will be no reckoning for their brutalization and murder.   

Both Tyre Nichols and George Floyd cried out for their mothers as they struggled against their imminent murders. Those cries were not just cries for help, but declarations to an unforgiving and unrelentingly structurally racist society that they are indeed accounted for and unconditionally loved.