The Memphis cops charged with murder were Black. What does it matter? – The Washington Post

Sorry, WaPo, I couldn’t just quote a little of this story.

«Though some studies have shown that police officers of color use force less frequently against Black civilians than their White counterparts, analysts say the improvement is marginal.

“Diversifying law enforcement is certainly not going to solve this problem,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, president of Mapping Police Violence.

He pointed to many factors in the policing system that lead to a disproportionate response against people of color: directives to work in neighborhoods where more people of color live and a system that relies on the discretion of the officer to enforce things like traffic stops, opening the door for internal biases to play a role.


Focus on the individual officers in the aftermath of police killing and not the institution the officer belongs to perpetuates the belief that policing’s problems are the result of a few bad apples — a narrative embraced by police, said Jeanelle Austin, who runs the George Floyd Global Memorial in Minnesota.

“This is what I fear: What’s going to happen in Memphis is what happened to Minneapolis — is that when Derek Chauvin and the other[three] officers were charged, the narrative turned from an issue of the police department to an individual issue,” Austin said. “That was a PR strategy.”

“What we’ve been screaming from our lungs for years is that the system and the culture of policing trains people’s minds regardless of the color of their skin to behave a certain way,” she said.


Systemic racism can be more difficult for the general public to grasp than explicitly visible White-on-Black crimes, said Craig Futterman, a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School who studies policing and civil rights.

“We’d like to think in the binary — the good guys and the bad guys,” he said. “It’s far easier to consume the story in an uncomplicated way seeing a White officer shoot 14 shots at a young Black boy laying on the ground,” he added, referencing the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald.


More than two weeks after Nichols was killed after being pulled over for what police said was reckless driving, Ayanna Robinson drove 6 1/2 hours from Indianapolis to Memphis to join demonstrations she thought would include thousands of protesters angered by his recorded beating by officers. She arrived to find dozens, not thousands, of protesters and they seemed calm.

Robinson, 28, a manager at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, said the turnout was nothing like what she saw in Memphis after Floyd, a Black man, was murdered in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020. In a way, the city seemed too peaceful after the Nichols killing, she said.


Robinson said one of the major reasons she thought many people seemed more subdued in response to the Nichols death was that the five officers charged in beating him are Black. If the officers had been White, “All hell would have broken loose. The city would have been in war.”

Nikki Owens felt a similar frustration in the aftermath of the death of her cousin, William Green, who was shot to death while handcuffed by a Black officer in Prince George’s County, Md., in January 2020.

“In America we’re taught that racism is black and white,” said Owens, who now works with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. “And we are not taught about institutional or systemic racism, even though we see it everywhere. We are taught that if a Black person kills another Black person, it can’t be racist. It’s ‘Black-on-Black crime.’”


“When I was out in the community and I would talk to people, I could see their reaction when I told them the officer was Black,” she said. “And some people would ask what color the officer was, which is another indication of that lack of understanding.”

Some protesters said that while the racism isn’t explicit, Nichols’s death could be a moment for the nation to understand the way pervasive, institutional racism functions, and how it can compromise individuals.

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