Recently, many of us digitally witnessed five armed police officers beat Tyre Nichols to death. Oftentimes it’s easy for us to be voyeurs to violence and then conjure up a context or make an excuse for what it is that we are seeing. It’s the privilege of distance and an inhuman disconnect from what we are seeing. When five men beat another to death, the common revulsion of what we are seeing usually ignites a moral understanding of right and wrong, a sense of fair play, empathy for the victim and a rejection of any context where five men can brutally beat another to death. When you introduce government uniforms to the men doing the beating, in the minds of some the context shifts and suddenly the victim may be at fault. A wider understanding is sought, other issues are claimed from demographics to training, yet the very core of what occurred is that five men beat another man to death.
The propaganda of the thin blue line depicts scenarios where the police officer is out numbered and must face incredible odds. The righteous call for justice and training will over come the danger from violent fiends who would harm the innocent. It’s a romance that no doubt fuels some police officers, though it certainly placates much of the public. In reality police officers very rarely enter nasty situations alone or where the odds are against them; they will retreat first. We have seen this in the case of riots where entire suburbs are abandoned by the very police that had incited the violence of the mobs.
In some nations it’s the police that will break into a person’s home, heavily armoured and well armed, shoot that person’s dog, humiliate the family and tear the accused away to be locked into a cell until that person proves their innocence. If that person was innocent, no guilt or shame is felt by those who broke in, destroyed property and frightened any innocent. Instead it’s just a job, one that is apparently (in some regions) based on the rule of law or certain sacred values of human rights and dignity that the police themselves claim to uphold. Though when tearing through a person’s home, kidnapping them and threatening death because they may be ingesting a plant, that sacred dignity and the righteous cause is challenged by any with an ounce of consistent morality.
Many have argued that policing is a thankless job (many professions are). It is a job with certain responsibilities, for the police hold a sacred place in most societies. The public generally trusts and believes that they serve them, that they exist to protect property and body from the violence and harm of bad actors. In fact the police serve the government. Serving the public is a secondary duty that exists only to compliment the first: Serving the masters that pay them, that conceive the laws and who wield them according to their ideological or political desires. The police are servants, not to the public but the government itself. The police are important to any regime and a good cop is the one who does his job, upholding the law. Protecting the innocent from tyranny is not the job of a good cop.
The five police men who bashed Tyre Nichols to death were breaking the laws that they promised to uphold. They were not acting as men serving the state. They acted as wild and frenzied cowards who were comfortable and likely experienced at beating a man. We can speculate as to what would have happened if no footage existed. If the world had not seen Rodney King’s beating would there have been any LA riots? The third party evidence seems to be all that matters for most because such beatings, shootings, and acts of violence occur often enough that entire communities understand perfectly their relationship with the police. The footage is not for them, it is for us. To convince us that power pollutes the mind and affords horrible people an ability to do terrible things and oftentimes they can get away with it.
When violence becomes the only way, it’s used to impose respect and establish relationships with others. The Japanese military masters did not order and plan the many rapes and murders that occurred in Nangking during the occupation by the Emperor’s soldiers. Some military masters criticized the actions of their soldiers and the massacre inspired reforms in an attempt to stop future atrocities from occurring. The Japanese military would go on to commit countless atrocities, brutality, and massacres. Just as the U.S. soldiers responsible for the rape and murder in My Lai were not under any specific orders from their supreme commanders to do as they did, and if they were ordered to rape and murder innocent people. what would that say about them as human beings? Despite the exposure of the My Lai massacre, the U.S. military has gone on to commit further war crimes over the years in its many of their overseas adventures.
Men drawn to a particular line of work and who become ingrained inside of those violent cycles are used to a power disparity and will often do terrible things that perpetuate the imbalance of justice. No matter how many reforms are sought, the more laws and the wider the usage of a police officer’s role in society, the more incidents. Just because no footage has been made public of other events does not mean that they do not happen. It is after all in the best interests of authorities to maintain a purity in their conduct to satiate the mobs and to secure a moral high ground among the community of governments.
In the context of the men who beat Tyre Nichols to death the exploration of the outsiders reaction is important. Those who wish to make police violence solely about racism do so with the intention of securing the role of the police for their own ideology. If the police are reformed then they will be useful. Or those who hold a bigoted opinion that all people of a certain demographic are more prone to violence do so with a collectivist’s statistics and shift the blame to race in a different spectrum. The demographics of those dropping bombs on cities filled with civilians causing mass death and misery was of one particular type that also does not help foster an argument against such actions. The feminist critic would see five men beating another, claiming that all men are potential violent beasts, the beating itself a metaphor for gang rape. We can see what we please. The murderers of Tyre Nichols did not act with a thesis of ideological intention, they acted in the moment as violent men do.
Many of us are fortunate to still be allowed the right to have a public conversation about the authorities bashing an individual to death. For those in places like China or North Korea such a privilege does not exist. Should that right ever be taken away it will be the police who will enforce its removal. Every erosion of human freedom before the might of a tyranny or liberal democracy is done under a context of public safety and the police feel righteous in their obedience. Those men who bashed Tyre Nichols to death would most likely have a career in the feared secret police in far more extreme regimes and no recorded evidence would be allowed to reach the public.
Inevitably when it comes to any action by the police within any community there exists those who watch on, wanting to know what the person being shot or beaten had done. As though something so heinous could justify the savagery of the beating or the shooting of an unarmed person. Never forget that men like Ted Bundy were not beaten or shot by their police custodians. For those who claim the righteous necessity of the state, should the police not be calmer when exercising their powers, in better physical and mental health so that they are not a threat to the public or in some cases their own wives? The uniform blinds many eyes when witnessing one sided violence, and by default some will lean onto the side of the person inside of the government costume. This is a dangerous bias. The reverse can also be true for those of us in the anti- community also.
These men acted as individuals working in a team as brutal thugs. They do not represent all cops but the police represent the imbalance of power in society. Inside the uniform is the compromise of individual dignity, conflating right and wrong with law, perverted by the need to obey government masters. Any armed, uniformed organization fosters a close family, especially when dealing with violence. The police encounter violence often (as do paramedics and fire fighters). Though it is the police who are also actively pursuing the violence in a policy of prevention or when enforcing victimless crimes. It’s also the belief that if the suspect is captured and thrown into the system that justice will prevail. The belief that the system will provide a fair and balanced outcome is crucial for those at the tip of its function.
Some observers scream that the victim should just co-operate; Tyre Nichols did. As have others who have been beaten or shot by government agents. Because of the imbalance of power and the magic of law, individuals are not allowed to defend themselves from such attacks. If cooperation leads to abuse or death does this not then send the message to many that they should fight anyone in a police uniform? The men who killed Tyre Nichols have been disowned by the police because of the footage; those officers watching on did not protect or serve the man being beaten to death. If no footage existed it is likely that few would know Tyre Nichols’ name and the five men would be among the ranks of other hard working cops.
Who Tyre Nichols was as a man seems unimportant to most who watched him suffer in his last moments. If we had witnessed the footage of the police beating to death Ted Bundy at the peak of his vileness, would that prove the righteousness of the assault? A profession that is insured by the wide belief that even the devil deserves his day in court, would it be validated if the worst version of mankind was beaten to death in such a manner? The men who beat Tyre Nichols were not thinking about the cause of justice. They were men in a profession of power on the side of authority who acted as violent men. When such violent men are sent abroad and serve in the name of policy, often they are called heroes. When the empire is close to home and captured on film, it apparently gets complicated. It’s not so complicated to the powerless victims.