Black America Cries About Police Brutality Is Not Just About Race But About Justice
Blacks in America have been the primary—though certainly not the only—target of police violence in the United States.
Black adults are generally about five times as likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity.
There is a substantial body of evidence showing that people of non-white skin, especially African Americans, are at greater risk of experiencing criminal justice contact and police-involved harm than are whites.
When it comes to police brutality in the United States, the unjustified or excessive, and often unlawful, use of force against civilians by U.S. police officers is more pronounced against blacks, particularly men and youths.
As we decipher the role of race in police officers’ use of force, as in the case of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was hospitalized after his traffic arrest by the now-fired black police officer in January 2023 and died three days later from the heinous beatings and injuries he sustained. Nichols was brutally beaten or injured to death this time by black officers, not by white officers, as it is mostly known in America.
On the video, officers can be seen holding Nichols down and repeatedly striking him with their fists, boots, and batons as the black motorist screamed for his mother. The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers chasing Nichols like a runaway slave and leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car as they fist-bump and commemorate their horrible actions.
As the black officer violently pulled Nichols out of a car, Nichols could be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers began to wrestle him to the ground. One officer is heard yelling, “Tase him!” “Tase him!” Nichols calmly says, “OK, I’m on the ground.” “You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to go home.” “Stop! “I’m not doing anything!” he yells moments later. Nichols can then be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. His mother’s home, where he resided, was only a few houses away from the scene of the beating.
The officers in the video can be seen chasing Nichols. As they got him, the officers beat him with a baton and kicked and punched him. Security camera footage shows some officers surrounding Nichols as he lies in the street; officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about; and then another officer appears to kick him in the head. Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with the officers surrounding him, and an officer kicks him again. They were pepper spraying him and hitting his face; how does hitting him in the head and face, kicking and punching him help, especially when he was defenseless and unharmful?
Nichols on the back is barely able to stay upright. Yet it took more than 20 minutes after Nichols is crushed down before any sort of medical attention is provided.
Some officers’ claims about Nichols’ behavior, such as attempting to grab a police gun, appeared to be made up for defense purposes, and one other officer admitted that no drugs were found in Nichols’ car.
The officers are supposed to know how to deescalate tension, but instead we see an overly sized officers exerting brutal physical force on Nichols, who has been out of control to the extent that they are tired, trying to catch their breath, and making jokes marked with profane languages. Nichols, with his hands behind his back, was dehumanized through and through.
For far too long, we have focused on white police officers in terms of police sensitivity and responsiveness to minority communities; however, it appears that the use of force in this matter differs from white officers’ racially biased behavior. As we witnessed black officers repeatedly punching, kicking, and pepper spraying Nichols, as well as striking him with batons and shocking him with Tasers. The story line “White cop kills unarmed black man” remains a reality, but not in this case.
The message that black people are inferior, undeserving, and dangerous remains persistent in America. Self-hatred is a real thing, especially among blacks. Black people can harbor anti-Black sentiments and act on those feelings in harmful ways. Such could have been the case with these five black officers.
The abuse of power and oppression of blacks by police authorities continues, partly due to anti-black racism, meaning that the average black American has been scarred by self-hatred. Unlike white racism, also known as white racial domination over those racialized as non-white and likened to white supremacy, race-based internalization or internalized racism has not received systematic attention in the policing of non-white neighborhoods. In fact, internalized racism is rarely discussed in law enforcement affairs.
Internalized racism, or internalized racial oppression, is the acceptance of stereotypes and discriminatory beliefs that have negative effects on the mental health and identity of non-white officers.
A little history here past and present tell us that from the moment Africans arrived on American shores, there was a deliberate effort by some to demean, demean, disregard, manipulate, and maltreat people of African ancestry.
People of African descent especially have generally come to accept the superiority of the white population. When this occurs, a person is said to have “internalized racism.” These black officers could have been suffering from internalized racism, defined as the conscious and unconscious belief in a racial hierarchy in which whites are steadily ranked above non-whites.
As racism is thought to be a major cause of police brutality directed at African Americans and other ethnic groups, internalized racism is also a major cause of police brutality as it affects black people in authority, such as these black officers, who allow themselves to see other blacks as less than them and treat those who dare to challenge their official authority.
These black officers could be basically adopting and promoting prejudicial behavior within the police department, such as police violence against racial minorities.
The negative stereotyping of low-status racial populations has been ever-present in the public consciousness, and it has affected relations not just between blacks and whites but also between blacks and blacks, among other racially minority people. So, these black officers may have this in their unconscious or conscious minds.
Officers of all colors, including black police officers, could have internalized those messages—and sometimes act on them. So, training of a different type should be provided for black officers. There are some simple steps police officers can take to act more decisively in terms of training in the areas of self-esteem, self-image, and anti-internalized racism in order to reduce feelings of acceptance of negative stereotypes about their own racial group, which could be associated with psychological distress marked by insecurity, depression, and anxiety symptoms.
Training should focus on reducing the deleterious effects of internalized racism, which is often subtle and unconscious and driven by racial inequality that shapes the way that the oppressed think of themselves and other members of their group.
White officers certainly need training in cultural competence, but blacks and other non-whites like black officers also need cultural competence training and need professional conversations about blackness in racial minority communities. Internalized race-based stress training should be organized by mental health professionals to help black officers gain internal racial comfort while at the same time lowering various types of anger and frustration that could trigger a range of defensive and aggressive moves. There is need for respectful communication and relationship skills, a strong work ethic, professional ethics, accountability, fair practices, and compassion for others are all examples of professional behavior.
On a community level, Tyre Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells said it well: these black officers now sacked and charged with second-degree murder brought “shame on their own families and the black community.”
As black law enforcement professionals, yes, they should be maintaining law and order irrespective of the ethnic community, but they also ought to be working towards reducing negative psychological dynamics in the black experience that contribute to destructive and unnecessary black victimization (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7R-9DUBOAA).
Professor John Egbeazien Oshodi, who was born in Uromi, Edo State, Nigeria, to a father who served in the Nigeria police for 37 years, is an American-based police and prison scientist and forensic, clinical, and legal psychologist. A government consultant on matters of forensic-clinical adult and child psychological services in the USA; chief educator and clinician at the Transatlantic Enrichment and Refresher Institute, an online lifelong center for personal, professional, and career development; and a former interim associate dean and assistant professor at Broward College, Florida. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African Settings A former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Psychological Association. In 2011, he introduced state-of-the-art forensic psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C. and Nasarawa State University, where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. An adjunct professor in the doctorate clinical psychology program at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Psychology in Florida, USA. A contributing faculty at the Psychology program, Walden University. Director of Online Studies and Professor of Psychology—Online Faculty at Weldios University in the Republic of Benin. He is a virtual behavioral leadership professor at ISCOM University, Republic of Benin. Founder of the proposed Transatlantic Egbeazien Open University (TEU) of Values and Ethics, a digital project of truth, ethics, and openness. Over forty academic publications and creations, at least 300 public opinion pieces on African issues, and various books have been written by him. He specializes in psycho-prescriptive writings regarding African institutional and governance issues. His most recent textbook publication is Concise Psychology: An Integrated Forensic Approach to Psychology for Global African Settings.