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by Demetrius Minor
I felt rage. My heart sank. I couldn’t even get words out. I wept with anguish and sorrow at the murder of Tyre Nichols.
No person should have to endure what Tyre Nichols went through or what his family is currently going through. His last words were to cry out for his mother. No mother should have to hear that on a video.
Tyre was stolen from his family, from his community and support system. Because he was killed by police officers on a traffic stop.
Nobody should be killed by police officers during a routine traffic stop. Nobody should have to fear that possibility. But many of us do, and in the wake of the horror so many of us witnessed as we watched the video of Tyre Nichols being beaten to death, even more of us do. That’s because of trauma.
The trauma of this moment is real. For Tyre Nichols’ family, I know only that their trauma will last a lifetime. For me, I feel it in my soul, watching this man who looked like me have his life taken away. I work on criminal justice issues, and to see someone who looks like me die at the hands of those sworn to protect, that is trauma.
Trauma is everywhere. Minority communities experience the persistent threat of violence–from those inside their community and from the police. Those who work in the criminal justice system have a higher risk of trauma too, both primary and secondary. That includes police officers, correctional officers, prosecutors, and judges who witness, experience, or use violence in the name of law enforcement. This experience adds up and has a damaging impact on minds and bodies.
Conservatives should care about this trauma — it drives further violence — and look for solutions that heal and break cycles of trauma.
Conservatives are also supposed to be the vanguard of traditional family values. If we care about families, and if we care about the American people, we should seek solutions that address trauma, not create it. When a family experiences trauma at the hands of the state, conservatives must raise our voices. We should boldly and unashamedly discuss how violence perpetrated by the state causes hurt and eternal pain amongst families and those who already feel marginalized within their communities.
Conservatives should question all government institutions, including the police. What happened in Memphis requires us to interrogate the whole criminal justice system. This moment should open our eyes to the ways a government institution is not working. That certainly does not mean we need to join calls to “defund the police,” but our conservatism requires us to ask questions about the dysfunctionality of budgets when violence continues. We shouldn’t blindly support any state institutions, especially when they operate without accountability, transparency, or effectiveness.
We can recognize that liberal reforms like diversity training, de-escalation training, and body cameras – all of which are already in place in Memphis – did not stop this from happening. Instead of looking solely at the option of pouring resources into an institution that is too often making communities less safe, we should look to effective, efficient solutions that will make local communities stronger and safer.
Valuing both life and public safety are critical conservative positions, and we must ensure that these values are not in conflict with one another. If trauma, lack of safety for families, and bloated government institutions are the problem, community-centered public safety ecosystems are a solution that offer efficient, effective access to healing and safety for those who need it most.
Right now, it feels as if safety is some utopian wonder that is continuously slipping from our grasps. And for communities that look like me, safety can often be an anomaly. Look at Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and now Tyre Nichols. And because I don’t want “Demetrius Minor” to be added to this list, I am begging my conservative friends, colleagues, and peers to fight for what is right.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have institutions that protect the innocent, including Tyre Nichols. We can create access to safety for all. That starts with defending Tyre as we do the innocence of an unborn child, instead of blindly defending a government entity that is clearly not serving its stated purpose.
So it starts with some simple, tangible options: write a letter to the editor, call your local elected representatives, request a town hall meeting for the community to learn more about law enforcement practices in their local cities.
We can’t relate to every experience, but that doesn’t excuse us from having an absence of empathy. Too many have been victimized by the atrocities of the system designed to protect us and their voices cannot continue to be ignored. It is within the conservative nature to empower individuals, not the government, to help meet the needs of our communities. The need for public safety and healing begins with us. For the sake of the lives of those around us, let’s begin the work now.
Demetrius Minor is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. He is also an author, political commentator, and minister at Tampa Life Church in Tampa, FL.