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Whitlock: Attitude explains Tyre Nichols' tragedy, not racism
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Whitlock: Attitude explains Tyre Nichols' tragedy, not racism

The tragic death of Tyre Nichols raises the possibility that the conflict between law enforcement and black men has more to do with attitude than racism.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Memphis man, died 17 days ago after a violent encounter with five Memphis police officers. Video footage of that encounter is scheduled for public release today. People who have seen the body camera footage say it reminds them of the Rodney King tape.

King, of course, was brutally beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991 at the conclusion of a long police chase. King survived. The city of Los Angeles nearly didn’t. The 1992 acquittal of the officers who beat King set off six days of violent rioting in Los Angeles that left 63 people dead and more than 2,000 people injured. It took the Marines, Army, and National Guard to stop the rioting in Los Angeles.

Similar violence could beset Memphis this weekend. In fact, the Tyre Nichols video could spark nationwide rioting. Nichols could be George Floyd 2.0.

CNN sent Don Lemon to Memphis to fan the flames. Memphis’ police chief, Cerelyn Davis, is doing her part to hype unrest. She’s conducted multiple interviews that, in my opinion, are aimed at increasing maximum anger and hostility.

“You’re going to see acts that defy humanity,” she told Don Lemon.

According to reports, after a routine traffic stop, Nichols fled the scene. Police chased and/or searched for Nichols for seven minutes and then beat him up for three minutes.

The five police officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder. Like Nichols, the five officers are young, black men. The oldest officer is 32. The youngest is 24.

Cerelyn Davis, the police chief, is a black woman. Her predecessor, Michael Rallings, was a black man. His predecessor, Toney Armstrong, was a black man.

The city of Memphis is 65% black and is beset with a troubling pattern of black men killing each other.

The case of Tyre Nichols tells a different story than the Rodney King case. King was black. The four officers tried for assaulting King were white. Corporate media framed the Rodney King case as an example of police misconduct fueled by racism.

Perhaps there’s a different common denominator in cases of police violence. Maybe the proper narrative focuses on attitude and frustration. Perhaps an attitude of resistance triggers lethal frustration among law enforcement.

Maybe people, regardless of color, who do not resist the commands and authority of law enforcement never trigger lethal frustration from police.

Let me add some critical context. I know exactly how the Tyre Nichols family feels. As I’ve shared previously, in 2012, my cousin, Anton Butler, was tasered to death by Indianapolis sheriffs in the storming rain. The sheriffs claimed he resisted arrest and forced them to use their Tasers.

I helped raise Anton. I bought him school clothes and Christmas gifts — read books with him. He, his brother, and cousins spent summers with me in Kansas City when they were children. I loved Anton. I paid for his funeral. I believe the sheriffs overreacted.

I also believe Anton made a mistake resisting their commands.

Policing is a frustrating, high-stress job. It’s a mistake to increase the stress and frustration of police officers. You can trigger them to combust.

As a man, I am primarily responsible for my safety — the government is not. My attitude toward law enforcement is to reduce stress. I’ve been pulled over for speeding numerous times. My attitude has created many warning tickets and no violence.

Too many young, black men have been programmed to hate and fear the police. The hate and fear spark resistance, which elevates frustration.

It’s tragic what happened to Tyre Nichols. It’s tragic what happened to my cousin, Anton. I will live with that painful memory for the rest of my life. His mama and brother live with that memory every day.

The frustration of law enforcement is not color-coded. Black and white officers feel the exact same frustration and lose control of themselves at the same rate.

We can’t keep doing the exact same things, expecting new results. How many cities must burn to the ground before we change the discussion about law enforcement and the black community?

I get why Ben Crump doesn’t want to change the discussion. Racializing these conflicts makes Crump rich. I get why Al Sharpton doesn’t want to change the discussion. Racializing these conflicts increases Sharpton’s popularity and relevance.

Crump is representing the Nichols family. Sharpton is flying into Memphis to officiate Nichols’ funeral. Don Lemon is in Memphis to document the inevitable looting and violence that will damage a predominantly black city.

Joe Biden and Democratic politicians will tell black voters that the racism of white conservatives caused five black police officers to kill a black man in a city totally controlled by Democrats.

It won’t cross anyone’s mind to analyze the mindset and attitudes of young, black men. We love to resist authority, and we think it’s acceptable that that resistance leads to deadly conflict.

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