On Jan. 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols, a young Black man, was brutally beaten by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, dying of his injuries days later. The police officers were fired and charged with second-degree murder. The aftermath of Nichols' death reignited the conversation on police brutality against Black people, including at the hands of these police officers, all of whom happened to be Black, as well.
One quote from RowVaughn Wells, Nichols' mother, went viral. On Jan. 28, 2023, speaking to Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation, she said:
I hate the fact that it was five Black men that actually did this to another Black man. My son probably was their age. They just brought disgrace to themselves [...] They just brought disgrace to everyone.
She made the quote at around the 12:40 minute mark in the full episode that can be watched here. And it has been correctly attributed to her.
The five police officers behind the beating and violence were Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith.
In another interview with CNN, she added, "They have brought shame to their own families. They brought shame to the Black community. I just feel sorry for them. I really do. Because they didn't have to do this."
The quote was picked up by conservative outlets like Fox News and the Gateway Pundit.
The incident has opened up a more complicated conversation on police brutality against Black people, which tends to simplify the narrative by portraying aggressors as white police officers against Black victims. Diversifying police forces to include Black and brown officers has long been a lauded method of police reform, but activists and experts argue that a deeper conversation about the culture of policing is as necessary as diversification.
"Blackness doesn't shield you from all of the forces that make police violence possible," James Forman Jr., law professor and race and policing expert, told The New York Times. "What are the theories of policing and styles of policing, the training that police receive? All of those dynamics that propel violence and brutality are more powerful than the race of the officer."
Activists have long argued that police officers, regardless of race, are indoctrinated into a system that sees Black and brown people as lesser.
At the same time, many on social media are debating whether any of this has to do with race. Conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey wrote on Twitter, "It is a warped worldview that can't grapple with the fact that people of all races do bad things. Black police brutally beating a black man isn't because of white supremacy, racism, or a system. They did it because people have the capacity to do wrong":
Ultimately, Tyre Nichols' mother did comment on the race of the police officers. She emphasized in numerous interviews that she would pray for their families, and that she believed they had brought shame on their families and their community.