Updated: Feb 2
Why isn't my mind at peace with what seems to be the blueprint of accountability and transparency?
Abominable! This is the only way I can describe the situation unfolding in Memphis, Tennessee. As the police prepare to release the recording of another video, adding to the ongoing unprocessed trauma, I can only think of the pain and anger that the family of Tyre Nichols is feeling and the outrage of his community. Even when we try to look for progress, as purposeless as it may seem today, the fact that this incident took place on January 7th and before the month is out, the five ex-officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder, assault and kidnapping. As a people, we have called for transparency and accountability of law enforcement. This case seems to be the blueprint for just that. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has been a light in such a dark situation. Recognizing that her officers violated policy and procedure, a citizen's rights, and the law enforcement profession, she swiftly did what other police departments have failed to do. So why isn’t my mind at peace? To put it, my mind is tormented by the brutal beating during a traffic stop (a questionable traffic stop, according to Chief Davis). And I am haunted by a young man who was left crying out for his mother as his life was being cut short by those who took to the oath to serve and protect.
Let us say his name, Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old black man, beaten by black officers for 3 minutes for a traffic stop on Jan. 7, and he died in the hospital. It wasn’t long ago I sat in a room full of police officers and questioned the validity of diversifying a police force, not because I was being critical of the intent, but instead, the impact. I have never been against diversifying any workforce, but I always ask, why?. So I want to highlight the unintended consequences and what we fail to discuss.
Diversity without cultural competency still harms the Black community.
This is a point I have made countless times and expressed in many ways. I can not deny the benefit of diversifying a police force. Representation is essential to building trust between the community and law enforcement. But where I become critical is what I have learned about the word diversity and its interpretation in law enforcement. When diversity is just about recruiting and retaining someone who looks different but does not bring with them the cultural competency to be that vanguard for their community, it remains a toxic environment. And when this happens, we all should question the diversity initiative's effectiveness.
As a police leader, you have identified a cultural problem in your department or profession. You make moves to hire and retain police officers with little to no cultural competency. It harms the community and depletes any effort to establish trust; sometimes, life is lost. Sounds familiar? Time and time again, I have shared the two dangers of hiring and retaining black officers who do not value cultural competency and turn away from being the equity police officer on the force. One, the department will pat itself on the back for its diversity, falsely claiming representation when it is merely presentation. The second danger is having on your force police officers that are culturally disruptive, who have willingly accepted assimilation into a culture of violence, that will continue to harm their own.
The toxic culture is harming the “good” police.
Strategies for Justice (SFJ) foundation uses narratives to seek change. We encourage “good” officers, those who are culturally proficient or at least competent, understand the generational trauma, and are dedicated to addressing it within law enforcement. These officers are often driven out by the trauma they face in their department and those who are there for presentation reasons only. Moses’ People Speaks provided opportunities for many who dare to break the silence. They have shared their stories and experiences publicly and sometime during closed interviews. So it begs me to ask, “why would I put a black body in law enforcement today, knowing that either they will assimilate into the culture that harms their own or they themselves will face harm?”
Citizens are losing hope.
Lastly, I see unprocessed community trauma everywhere, and it is cyclical. I took time to think of all the mothers and fathers who lost their loved ones to this type of violence and did not get swift justice if any. This traumatic stress is amplified every time another incident happens. Nearly ten years ago, I remembered a friend telling me that I should do the Battle With Moses People conversation ASAP in light of the killing of Eric Gardner. Sadly, I replied without urgency, “No need. There will be another one. I wasn’t being morbid, but I understood that this wasn't new and that change would be slow and painful. Here we are now, 2023, and that statement still rings true.
This cyclical trauma is sickening. I have had multiple public conversations with or about law enforcement this month, with other discussions planned, each discussing how to make a change or bring the community together. But how can we have these conversations and they not seem futile in the hopeless state of violence? How can we talk about rights, trust, humanity, and goodwill when hope appears to be gone? I am committed to the cause, and even I, at times, find hope undetectable. I even wrote a warning about the loss of hope in my book. This warning echoes in my mind and my heart this week:
“Finders beware of hope to be found.
False hope is a danger; known founders have drowned
Seek truth instead; its depths are unknown
Less have drowned in truth, finder. This has been shown.”
Till we talk again.
With seeking love and humanity
About the author
Terry Watson is a professional speaker, author, and trainer specializing in disability equity in education, racial justice, and law enforcement. Mr. Watson has more than 15 years of working in higher education and is the founder of Strategies for Justice and the host of Moses' People Speak and the author of Welcome to the Sick Mind of a Sane Person: Deconstructing Racism and White Supremacy.