The Back Road: Tyre Nichols’ last words: Mom, mom, mom

The Back Road: Tyre Nichols’ last words: Mom, mom, mom

Andrew Malekoff

“All mothers were summoned when he called out for his mama.”

This message appeared as an image – a meme, in all CAPS, spray-painted in black on three sheets of plywood. The image was posted widely on social media. It was posted on the day following the release of the police videos of the deadly attack against Tyre Nichols, a father, son and brother. Tyre, a 29-year-old black man, was assaulted by five black Memphis police officers, who have since been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

Others who came onto the scene and failed to intervene or medically treat Tyre, also face consequences.

Most excruciating in viewing the video in which Tyre was taken down were his repeated cries for his mother – mom, mom, mom – whose home was only about 60 yards away from the violent scene. And, make no mistake, what the video showed is nothing short of torture.

Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on February 1. He directed his remarks at the police officers who battered Tyre. He invoked the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968: “[The] five black men wouldn’t have had a job in the police department in the city that Dr. King lost his life. You didn’t get on the police department by yourself. The police chief didn’t get there by herself. People had to march and go to jail and some lost their lives to open the doors for you – and how dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing?”

Tyre Nichols was 140 pounds and managing Crohn’s disease. The combined weight of the five police officers was, by all estimates, conservatively 1,000 pounds. Imagine being helpless, cooperative, pleading for your life, and being tased and pepper-sprayed, kicked in the head repeatedly, and beaten with fists and a police baton by more than 1,000 pounds of malevolent force.

Now, imagine if it was your son or daughter that was being battered. Imagine them being just 60 yards from your front door, crying out mom, mom, mom, as their life was hanging on a thread.

In her remarks at the memorial Vice President Kamala Harris said, “Mothers around the world, when their babies are born, pray to God when they hold that child, that that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life. Was [Tyre] not also entitled to the right to be safe?”

Although the five police officers were fired and will stand trial, the film they directed and starred in will live inside of all those who viewed it. Forever.

Viewing the video of the human cruelty and deadly violence perpetrated against Tyre Nichols, renders us all subject to vicarious trauma, particularly if we have any empathy whatsoever.

Taking action to affect change can help individuals to triumph over the demoralization of helplessness and despair and can help to ease the overwhelming weight of trauma. Advocating for police reform is one way to help survivors to mourn and “establish the historical and cultural meaning of the traumatic event,” as trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk advises.

In her remarks, Vice President Harris called for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, first brought to Congress in 2021. Although the legislation passed in the House it did not make it through the Senate.

The proposed bill would prohibit no-knock warrants in certain circumstances and police methods like chokeholds. It would eliminate qualified immunity, which protects officers from civil litigation. The bill would also provide funding for training and community policing nationwide.

It feels as if almost every week there is a violent event that draws the nation’s attention. The latest being the police killing of Tyre Nichols, the mass shootings against Asian Americans in California, and the hammer attack against Paul Pelosi, which generated a disturbing number of revolting jokes and conspiracy theories by legislators and media commentators – the usual suspects.

A growing proportion of Americans who have been leaning towards authoritarian rule are developing a real taste for violence, even celebrating it. And, it is not going away soon. It won’t simply disappear.

What to do?

Pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so that today’s and tomorrow’s black children and grandchildren, and especially Black boys, will be safe and will no longer need to hear “the talk” whenever they leave their home.

Pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so that no mother, ever again, will have to hear their child cry out for them as they are being beaten to death by law enforcement officers charged with protecting them.

Pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and take a step in transforming the culture of violence that is growing in America before it metastasizes and crushes our democracy.

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