The cycle of senseless police violence continues. Another young unarmed Black man was killed by the police, with the evidence of the officers’ depravity and guilt recorded on video for the whole world to see. Yesterday’s funeral service of Tyre Nichols memorialized another Black life viciously cut short. On Jan. 7, Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker and avid skateboarder, was pulled over in Memphis for alleged reckless driving. After five police officers brutally beat him, he died in the hospital three days later.
The footage of the fatal beating, released last Friday, is so horrific that before it was even released the five officers — all of whom are Black — were fired and charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct, and oppression. This week two additional officers, as well as several others involved in the incident, were also relieved of their duty; a white officer who tased Tyre has been placed on desk duty.
I’m not going to share the video because Black death should never be normalized or sensationalized. While I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the full clip, what I have seen filled me with profound grief and righteous anger, particularly the cruelty of these officers and their complete disregard for Tyre’s life. It is unfathomable how they are unable to see, let alone respect, Tyre’s humanity and instead dehumanize him as a threat that needs to be subdued. Yet nearly half of Americans see the recent killings of Black people by police as isolated cases; I pray Tyre’s tragic death will help persuade our nation that these killings are the result of a pernicious and systemic pattern.
After the footage was released, the Memphis police department disbanded the unit to which the five officers belonged and Tyre’s family called for national legislators to take up and pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act — a bill that would create the bare minimum of change that is needed, yet is still unlikely to pass in the current Congress. For any lasting justice, policing itself and its accompanying “warrior culture” desperately needs to be reimagined.
In painful moments like this, my impulse now is the same as when I first heard the news: I needed to talk to God. A prayer of lament is what I found on my lips and in my heart, and I offer one here in the hope that it might put into words some of the heartbreak, grief, outrage, trauma, and exhaustion you might also be feeling. Through prayers of lament we “acknowledge real suffering and plead with God for his intervention,” as Rev. Soong-Chan Rah puts it. Thoughts and prayers are never enough, but prayer is a necessary balm and an essential source of strength for the action ahead.
Gracious and loving God,
Sometimes our nation and world are so full of injustice, loss, and pain that words fail us and our spirit can find no rest. We don’t even know what to say, how to pray, and where to begin to set right the many things that are so overwhelmingly wrong. The vicious murder of Tyre Nichols feels like one of those moments.
We cry out to you because we know every life is precious, including Tyre’s.
We cry out to you, lamenting that so many of our fellow human beings, all bearers of your image, are being brutally and unjustly struck down by the violence of the state.
We cry out for the city of Memphis and our nation, which are reeling in trauma and pain.
We cry out for Tyre’s mother who has lost her beloved son; for his family and his broader community who need your comfort in the midst of this profound loss.
We cry out because we see a system originally built to uphold slavery has mutated and evolved in ways that continue to brutalize Black and brown lives.
We cry out for every life stolen by police violence, which disproportionately harms Black and brown lives.
We cry out because change feels intractable and elusive.
We cry out because we see police officers of all races violently upholding a system that so often prioritizes control rather than public safety.
We cry out because we can’t afford to wait any longer for our nation to realize the promise of equal justice under the law and to make liberty and justice real for ALL.
We yearn to experience your vision of safety and wholeness tied to your promise of shalom; we long for a world where we no longer need to fear because “everyone has their own vine and fig tree.” We want to see a day in which every person in law enforcement honors their sworn oath to serve and protect everyone. And we want to see them held accountable when they violate this duty.
Give us the strength, the resilience, and the hope to stay in this struggle for justice. Help us to work tirelessly and relentlessly to co-create a justice system that treats everyone with dignity and invests in the programs and approaches that will lead to real public safety rooted in a commitment to justice. Give us new imagination to reimagine public safety. Give us greater courage to transform the justice system.
Hear our prayer, O Lord. In the precious name of your son Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Liberator, we pray. Amen.