On Friday, January 27th, officials in Memphis (Tennessee) released body camera video of the traffic stop that led to the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29 year old Black man who was fatally beaten by five police officers on January 7th. Below is a statement from Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), regarding this incident.
On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I hold the family of Tyre Nichols in our love and prayers in this time of devastating grief and loss. Too, we hold the community of Memphis, Tennessee in care in the midst of outrage and protests at Nichols’ death. We also hold the Black community close to our hearts as reoccurring police violence triggers trauma, anguish and our collective demand for justice.
In June 2020, in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the UUA denounced “the inherent violence of policing. Police brutality is a symptom of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, and as people of faith and conscience dedicated to justice and liberation, we must name this truth.”
Three years later, and since before the founding of this country, we continue to be confronted with these truths about systemic brutality. Our actions to date are woefully inadequate and we must do more. Policing and law enforcement continues to be fundamentally broken and “we need a different system of public safety—one that recognizes the humanity of all people at its foundation,” as we said in 2021.
The death of Tyre Nichols is a reminder that violence faced by Black people at the hands of law enforcement continues to be pervasive. It is also historically rooted in systemic racism and has only increased in these last years. At the same time, the Black community often faces an unequal system of justice.
It is important to acknowledge that action and accountability measures were taken immediately by the Chief of the Memphis Police Department, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis. Still, we all must ask ourselves these questions: What would it take to not have police killings shatter families and communities on a daily and weekly basis? How can we imagine community safety that is not rooted in violence?
We must all recognize that we will never know freedom until all communities are free of the threat of violence and death at the hands of police.
When we say Black Lives Matter, we must mean in action as well as words. The last Congress failed to pass legislation that would reform policing in this country. I urge both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to pass legislation to protect communities of color and the public from the violence and lack of accountability of American policing.
In June 2020, I wrote, “This is a time in our country when so many insidious forces seek to divide us and give us false and empty dichotomies that only lead to more destruction. We need to remember our Unitarian Universalist values in this time. To remember that we are one in creation, one in God, as our Universalist forebears said.” I renew that reminder today.
As UUs, we believe in justice, equity, and inclusion as a matter of faith and Principle. As such, we are compelled to work towards a society where these Principles are more than concepts but lived realities. Over the weekend, in Memphis and across the country, people turned out to support Tyre Nichols’ family and to protest the institutional racism that is patently evident in our law enforcement system.
UUs, including me, are in solidarity with the Black leaders, organizers, and community members fighting for justice and for the systematic changes that will end police violence against Black people. This is an urgent moral crisis. We need to fundamentally reimagine public safety. We must take action now.