On January 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man was brutally killed by five Black police officers. As we approach the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, it is just another gut-wrenching murder. Needless to say, countless Black male murders have occurred since George Floyd, but this one is unique because the perpetrators were Black. It was not a regular day of police brutality in America, but one that offered a new perspective.
As someone living in the UK, I learned about the severity of police brutality directed at Black Americans through the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the barbaric murder of George Floyd. These demonstrations exposed the institutionalised racial inequality within the American policing system. As an Indian woman, these race-based incidents of police brutality hit close to home, reminding me of the horrific stories I’ve heard in my own community. It’s unbearable for me to think about the violence and abuse that my fellow Indians face sometimes for negligible reasons such as keeping shops open past curfew times during covid at the hands of other Indians. Although many Indians raged against the death of George Floyd, they were able to turn a blind eye to the Indian-on-Indian police brutality happening in their own backyard.
I wondered how can this hypocrisy exist in India, a country that breathes “Ahimsa” (Sanskrit: non-violence.) Maybe we are all helpless seeing that the government has not often taken effective action. Much like in America, the atrocities inflicted upon Indian people are unimaginable, as they often face brutal lathi (baton) attacks that crush bones; sexual attacks that strip people of their dignity, and torture that breaks spirits. This kind of humiliation scars for life.
It’s painfully clear that the sacredness of life means little to those in positions of power. In America and in India, people of colour are left to grapple with the devastating realization that despite being citizens of our home countries, we are still treated as lesser beings, always forced to question if we truly belong. Even by those who look like us.
It has been three years since George Floyd’s murder, and we all hoped that new policies would already have been implemented. Some argue that three years is not enough time to make radical changes to an impervious system. Yet, for many Black Americans, there is urgency because each day that passes, another Black man’s life is lost.
For George Floyd it was 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while it only took three short minutes to take Nichols’ life. The unprecedented and heinous Nichol’s assault included a taser, pepper spray, kicks, punches, baton strikes and handcuffs. All of this for “reckless driving.” Let that seep in.
Tyre was stopped and ‘killed’ or you could even say ‘murdered’ (a term not used as court hearings are still in process’) for ‘allegedly’ driving out of order. No departmentally reviewed footage has been able to substantiate the true cause of the traffic stop. If police cannot find substantive evidence to determine the cause of a traffic arrest, where does that leave us in gathering evidence for major crimes? Does this mean that cases can remain in a grey area whenever a police officer commits a crime against a citizen? In Tyre’s case, he died, which led to scrutinised investigations, but what about in other instances? Does this suggest that Black Individuals must accept ambiguous claims about their arrests when the consequence is not death? The terrible truth is that since George Floyd’s death, the number of Black individuals killed by police has actually increased, according to new data.
It is heart-breaking to think that the very institutions meant to protect us are the ones responsible for our suffering. Some say that the Indian government has become infamous for perpetuating police brutality. The statistics from India speak volumes. A report stated that in 2018, the National Human Rights Commission reported that nine people died in judicial or police custody every 24 hours in India, while the government’s report stated only 70 deaths under police custody for the year. Have we reached a point where we cannot even trust the government with statistical data? Is our government no longer ‘for the people’?
It has been said that police brutality often serves political agendas such as controlling public dissent or even misleading voters through conspiracies regarding victims of brutality. To compound the illegalities, no police officers were known to be convicted for any of these deaths, not even the 70 reported in the government report.
We were all left flabbergasted when hearing the news of Jayaraj and Bennicks, who were initially bought into custody for allegedly breaching coronavirus lockdown rules. Within three days, they were admitted to hospitals where they met their deaths. The cause: supposed sexual assault and torture by the police. This should never be true when effective legal systems are in place.
Have the African American and Indian police forces forgotten the fundamental concept of the sanctity of life of their own? Is it the reality that American policy do not uphold the sanctity of Black lives? Or, have they both succumbed to nihilism, where they are unable to discern varying degrees of crime and appropriate consequences?
Adding to the complexity of Tyre’s unfathomable case, the universal indictment of “racism” is easily relieved. Some use the race of the five police officers to distort the true problem that the violence epidemic causes for humanity. The race card becomes the focus, diminishing the tragic outcome. Some have even stated that Tyre’s killing was a “non-racist “act which is simply not true. Is the only proof of a “racial act” the disparate skin colors of perpetrator and victim? It is actually more nuanced than that. The truth is that when Black police officers can commit these atrocious acts against their own, it illustrates that the culture of policing is so consuming that it trumps cultural allegiance and leaves all officers possibly brainwashed with white supremacy ideologies, even when they themselves are not white.
Similarly, while everyone is susceptible to the wrath of police in India, this phenomenon is especially true for India’s minorities including religious minorities, indigenous groups and marginalised castes who are known to bear the brunt of India’s police violence. It is all too common for Indians to leave their homes “under arrest,” only to be returned as corpses. And, at an alarming rate, more is being uncovered about violations against women and girls. Bigotry, misogyny, and prejudice still exist which is how American and Indian governments are failing to protect their most vulnerable citizens.
The USA and India are ranked the top two biggest democracies of the world and yet their policing track record is pulling them away from the foundational values of a democratic society. After all, India’s preamble starts with ‘We the people…’ emphasising that the power is with the citizens. America’s holds a similar principle: `…by the people, for the people.’
After the countless killings of unarmed Black men, Americans are daring to articulate the foundation of white supremacy which is the true culprit that has tattered the relationship between minorities and the police force.
In America, the roots of policing have always been to control the runaway slaves, which over time was diluted into simply controlling the ‘racialised other.’ (All those who are not white.) These ideals have not significantly departed from their origin. Some claim that these actions and protections convey a not-so-subtle desire to adhere to institutionalised racism. Is this where we have come?
This may have been what occurred when the five Black police officers acted in a manner that was unfortunately consistent with how the white police have been trained to approach Black suspects. Although in Black skin, in donning their uniform, all police officers are indoctrinated to become “Blue.”
The same can be said for India, which was once colonised by the British, which has kept their claws tightly on India’s policing system. The torturous, and often anti-minority bias screams of colonialism in India. It is certainly no secret that under British colonisation, the police served the purpose of controlling ‘the other,’ too. The colonial legacy has seeped into the very fabric of Indian society, perpetuating an unjust and oppressive culture that continues.
Black and Indian activists must come together to decolonize both of our policing institutions, dissecting and exposing the often-oppressive histories that built them. What we must strive for is to ensure that policing institutions will finally unhinge from supremacist notions.
We all must commit ourselves to build a culture of compassion which reminds me of the great Indian musician, Bhupen Hazarika who sang:
“Manuh jodihe nohoi manuh
Danav kahanio nohoi manuh
Jodi danav kahaniba hoiyei manuh
Laj pabo kunenu kuwa?”
If humans don’t act like humans
Then will demons act like humans?
If demons act like humans,
Then who will be brought to shame?
Some sources that informed my article:
- Bunn, C. (2022). Report: Black people are still killed by police at a higher rate than other groups. [online] NBC News. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/report-black-people-are-still-killed-police-higher-rate-groups-rcna17169.
- Alfonseca, K., Carter, N. and Pereira, I. (2023). Tyre Nichols: A timeline of the investigation into his death. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://abcnews.go.com/US/tyre-nichols-timeline-investigation-death/story?id=96695791.
- Turner, D. (2023). Pollywanacraka: Tyre Nichols and Systemic White Supremacy. [online] Dwight Turner Counselling. Available at: https://www.dwightturnercounselling.co.uk/2023/01/30/pollywanacraka-tyre-nichols-and-systemic-white-supremacy/ [Accessed 18 Mar. 2023].
- Wilson, T.U. (2023). Tyre Nichols and the Complexity of Institutional Racism. [online] AAIHS. Available at: https://www.aaihs.org/tyre-nichols-and-the-complexity-of-institutional-racism/.
- Gettleman, J., Yasir, S., Raj, S., Kumar, H. and Loke, A. (2020). How Delhi’s Police Turned Against Muslims. The New York Times. [online] 12 Mar. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/world/asia/india-police-muslims.html.
- theleaflet.in. (2021). The unlawfulness of police brutality in India – The Leaflet. [online] Available at: https://theleaflet.in/the-unlawfulness-of-police-brutality-in-india/.
- The Wire. (n.d.). Why Police Brutality and Torture Are Endemic in India. [online] Available at: https://thewire.in/government/why-police-brutality-and-torture-are-endemic-in-india.
- ‘India’s George Floyds’ spur calls for end to police brutality. (2020). Reuters. [online] 7 Jul. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-crime-minorities-rights-feature-idUSKBN2481OQ.
- GeeksforGeeks. (2022). What is significance of the phrase ‘We the people of India’ in the Preamble? [online] Available at: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/what-is-significance-of-the-phrase-we-the-people-of-india-in-the-preamble/ [Accessed 13 Apr. 2023].
- Varsity Online. (n.d.). The Horror of Police Brutality in India. [online] Available at: https://www.varsity.co.uk/opinion/19650.
- Restless Beings. (n.d.). Police Brutality Against Women in India. [online] Available at: https://www.restlessbeings.org/articles/indian-women-in-police-custody-cases-of-police-brutality-against-women [Accessed 13 Apr. 2023].
- Baruah, P. (n.d.). The violent video from a recent eviction drive should be a moment of reckoning for Assamese society. [online] Scroll.in. Available at: https://scroll.in/article/1006564/the-violent-video-from-a-recent-eviction-drive-should-be-a-moment-of-reckoning-for-assamese-society [Accessed 13 Apr. 2023].
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