Liora Norwich, Executive Director of the NFSJ, with NFSJ staff
In early June of 2020, days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, the Network issued this statement, which was endorsed by hundreds of community leaders and Winchester institutions. Since last Friday we have found ourselves once again grappling with the knowledge and filmed evidence of another Black person killed at the hands of the police, and the words in this statement are as relevant as ever.
The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis is yet another unjust killing of an unarmed Black civilian by law enforcement officers. According to the nonprofit Mapping Police Violence, in 2022 at least 1,176 people were recorded as having been killed by law enforcement in the US, the most of any year since at least 2013. As the video and detailed circumstances of Nichols’s killing continue to filter out, we are once again reflecting on the role of the people whose job is to protect and serve. And while there are differences in this case, it underscores the same patterns and systemic problems.
The first factor is the culture of some police forces that employ violence and strong-arm tactics to get results. This is especially pertinent with units such as the SCORPIONS, the unit implicated in Nichols’s death, which primarily operate in underserved communities. Moreover, and as was the case with Nichols, “the majority of these killings began in response to a mental health call, routine traffic stop, a non-violent offense or disturbance or a situation where there was no crime alleged,” according to Mapping Police Violence’s founder, Samuel Sinyangwe. This heavy-handed culture is compounded by an ongoing misalignment in the tasks to which police are assigned. When duties that should be part of a community-based response strategy or the domain of mental health first responders get assumed by police forces that are ill-equipped to handle nuanced situations, deadly outcomes result.
Much attention has been paid to the fact that the officers involved in Nichols’s death were Black. However, this just underscores the systemic issues plaguing the criminal legal system and lends credence to the argument that systemic racism (including racial profiling) remains a factor regardless of the race of the perpetrator. For example, we can ask ourselves if these Black officers would have treated a white motorist the same way.
While the NFSJ is a small community nonprofit whose primary mission is not focused on the deeply entrenched systemic issues plaguing our country’s criminal legal system, the work we do as part of our mission has the potential to make crucial inroads on these issues.
On Saturday, February 11, we will offer our advanced facilitation workshop, which focuses on managing conflict in dialogue, addressing both race and class dynamics. Days after that we will officially launch the Winchester Lived Experience Survey, which seeks to understand occurrences of hate crimes and discriminatory, marginalizing, harassing, and exclusionary incidents involving anyone who lives, works, studies or worships in town.
We believe that advancing equity starts in our community and requires those of us with power and privilege to work to understand the experiences of those with whom we live, work, study, and worship. We have nowhere else to start but here, and the time is now.