Et Tu, Memphis?

Gary C. Harrell
4 min readJan 27


[Image credit: Essence Magazine]

This is maddening - this casual and widespread devaluation of the lives of people of color.

Before we discuss another incident of police brutality, we should acknowledge that, though heinous, this isn’t our biggest problem. In fact, in the African-American community, while many are loathe to admit it, the likelihood of being the victim of intra-racial violence is significantly greater than being the victim of an incident of police brutality. Of course, that does not mean there is not a problem with the way law enforcement interacts with this community; according to a 2018 report in the Boston Globe, blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. Even still, giving selective focus to the issue of police brutality, while remaining largely silent about intra-racial violence, is wrong-headed. Blacks account for 32.7% of violent-crime victims and 54.4% of homicide victims; roughly thirty blacks, on average, are killed by guns each day; and blacks make up 39.4% of the perpetrators of violent crime. Alas, we as a community must address that destructive phenomenon, if we expect to be taken seriously when we say our lives matter.

But let’s be clear. Nothing in that point mutes the fact that we all deserve law-enforcement institutions that serve and protect our communities in ways that seek to, above all else, preserve every person’s life.

We have to find a way to deal with police brutality, because, like it or not, as taxpayers, we can easily be left on the hook for it. That said, I am not for defunding any of the 18,000 policing agencies in our country, and I don't think breaking down most of these agencies is the answer. We must remember that America has a far-bigger crime problem than it does a rogue-policing problem. Nevertheless, just as we hope to get tougher on criminals in our communities, the problem officers in the agencies that protect those communities must also be rooted out...

In the summer of 2020, Andrew Cuomo suggested recommendations for reforming law-enforcement agencies: (1) standardize use-of-force guidelines nationwide, and establish a clear and consistent definition of excessive force for all 18,000 policing agencies; (2) establish independent agencies for auditing police departments and investigating incidents of excessive force; and (3) require agencies to make public the records pertaining to civil complaints filed against officers or departments.

I would add to Cuomo’s suggestions with my own: (1) higher education and continuous-learning requirements, as well as on-going training; (2) better recruiting tools and more routine psychological evaluations of officers; (3) more community policing; (4) incorporation of mental-health and/or social-services professionals for interventions and de-escalations, particularly during incidents of mental-health crises; and (5) mandatory liability coverage to be paid by officers or by their unions.

We cannot remain comfortable with the notion of brutality, whether exacted from within our communities by us or perpetrated by the hands of law enforcement. Change must start somewhere, and it must be swift, purposeful, and enduring.


About the brutal encounter that led to the death of Tyre Nichols, officials in Tennessee have described it as “inhumane” and “appalling”, and they’ve said that it should not have happened. So why did it?

The killing of this young, black man, a person with no prior history of criminality, is more than simply a matter of police brutality. That it happened at the hands of five police officers, also black, beckons the need for a broader and more difficult conversation about the way America perceives people of color — and how we also perceive ourselves. The officers’ willingness to use the level of force that led to a death, to their own dismissals, and subsequently to criminal charges, was the manifestation of their subscription to a way of thinking that echoes the notion of otherness and promotes a dim view of people of color. Sure, no one is under any obligation to assume that every young, black man is a threat; however, there is a general perception in our society that this might be true, clearly even within our own community. And it is that perception — a perception even older than this country — that made it easier for these officers to escalate a traffic stop to the point of great tragedy.

We have an obligation, first, as a community and then as a society to combat this flawed and dangerous perception, just as vigorously as we fight to reform law enforcement and the criminal-justice system. The way we look at and treat ourselves, the way we interact with one another, and the value this society places on our people — all of these things must change. Otherwise, this nightmare will go on and on… Far too many lives have been lost, whether due to senseless intra-racial violence or to acts of excessive force by law enforcement, for any of us to be silent and let it continue.



Gary C. Harrell

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