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Content Warning: The following post includes details from the video of Tyre Nichols’ murder.

“No one is free until we are all free.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

How do we hold the weight of this world and keep working for the world we seek?   

When the video of police officers beating Tyre Nichols to death went public, I was immersed in FCNL’s Executive Committee retreat, discussing the future of our organization and things like our commitments to becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist organization. Even as the Black community once again pulled itself together to show up on the streets in nonviolent protest over the brutal killing of yet another Black man at the hands of police, we stayed focused on the work at hand.   

It was safe work, privileged work.  My life was not in danger. It wasn’t hard for me as a white woman to stay focused and avoid whatever was happening outside. Some of my other white colleagues in the room noted the alerts on their phones that protests would be happening near where we were meeting.  “Should we be worried about anything?”, people asked. “They might block off some streets.”  I didn’t suggest we pause our business to discuss what the protests were about, or consider joining them.   

I understand why we kept focused on the work we were doing. The weight of our world is heavy. One of our own staff had died peacefully in the hospital the night before after long health issues. The Monterey Bay mass shooting, followed by more gun violence daily in our country, was still raw on our hearts.  A new wave of violence in Israel and Palestine and persistent wars in Yemen and Ukraine were still ripping apart lives. Even the planet itself is screaming out for our attention and action every day. We carry so many concerns; trying to respond to them all can easily overwhelm any one of us.   

Racism and militarized violence are interwoven throughout our history, our policies, in ourselves, and our present-day reality.

But there is a difference when it’s your community that is under attack persistently, constantly, here in our own streets. If you’re Black, it’s not possible to stay focused, to just keep your head down and carry on with business as planned. Another police killing of a Black person levels yet another unavoidable body blow for the Black community as they try to just go about their day. And we should all feel it. Black lives matter. And it’s the responsibility of white allies like me to remember that.  

When I did finally make the time to pause, breathe, and face the news I’d been avoiding about Tyre, I was devastated. Tyre didn’t fight back when he was assaulted violently by multiple officers, for no clear reason, yelling conflicting orders at him. He stayed calm, kept his voice low and remarkably steady in the midst of a chaotic attack– “alright, alright, I’m on the ground” – as if it were his job to calm them down, until he had to run to try to save his own life. The response from those sworn to protect him was instead to chase him down and deliver a deadly beating. And Tyre died, like George Floyd, calling for his mom.  

And that’s the part where I lose it. I can’t imagine the depth of trauma and pain that Black people feel in the face of every new killing of their loved ones, often at the hands of police. But I feel vividly the anguish that a mother must feel hearing that her son is calling for her in his last breath. Since the moment my sons were born, my only wish has been that no one will harm them and that I will die before they do. I do not think I could bear what Black mothers bear.  

And I cannot comprehend a system of policing that is supposed to keep us safe but trains people to treat other human beings in this way—one that conditions individuals to view people with dark skin as a threat, dangerous, or less worthy of respect. This system produced officers who continued kicking, punching, tasing, kneeling, while a man calls out for his mother, his breath.   

Some may point to the killing of Tyre Nichols – a son, a father, a joyful skateboarder – and say that because the officers responsible were also Black, it is not a matter of racism.  But racism isn’t an individual act, it’s a system – a system of violence, oppression, and control designed to consume us all and destroy our ability to see each other’s humanity, hear each other’s cries for help. In our country, racism and militarized violence are interwoven throughout our history, our policies, in ourselves, and our present-day reality. And that is what we saw in the killing of Tyre, and too many others. 

Our policing system was created to enforce with violence the enslavement of Black people in our country. However much it has evolved and changed since then, it continues to rely on violence and disproportionately harm and lock away Black people. We train police officers – white, Black, Latino, Asian, of all races and genders – to rely on violence as their primary means of control and law enforcement.  We frequently count on force and violence to respond to societal failings like addiction and poverty. We don’t focus our time and resources on building safe communities nearly as much as we do on “fighting crime” and putting people – mostly Black people – behind bars. And it isn’t working. 

Dismantling racism and militarism in our police system means changing the fundamentals of how we approach public safety. It means ending brutal tactics that perpetuate police violence through legislative action and transforming policing and the justice system itself. It means investing much more seriously in tools and approaches that actually create safe communities, like community violence interrupters (or credible messengers), economic development, and wraparound social services. And it means facing squarely the persistent violence and racism in the current system that continues killing Black people. 

For me and other white people who want to help change that system, it also means showing up for justice and helping bear the burden that the Black community has born for generations. It means inviting hard conversations with myself and with people in my circle, who don’t feel the weight of these systems but have a lot of power to change them.  

I am continually moved and humbled by the lessons in nonviolence, peacebuilding, resilience, and trauma healing that I see my Black colleagues and people of color in our country and around the world practicing every day, through every brutal assault, with unwavering dignity and strength.  We can – and must – learn a lot from the life and death of Tyre Nichols, and from so many others, and we must continue to pause, breathe, and keep showing up together in the struggle for justice. 

Bridget Moix

Bridget Moix

General Secretary

Bridget Moix is the fifth General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). She also leads two other Quaker organizations, affiliated with FCNL: Friends Place on Capitol Hill and FCNL Education Fund.