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Despite being exhausted by our country’s political antics, I tuned in to watch President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address (SOTU) on Tuesday night.
In traditional fashion, POTUS made his rounds through the country’s most pressing issues and eventually got to gun violence and police reform. He then introduced the parents of Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who was recently murdered by police officers in Memphis.
As his parents stood to their feet, the crowd erupted with applause, gave them a standing ovation and I instantly got angry.
Biden continues his speech with, “What happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better.” Then he muttered off a number of “solutions,” and the crowd exploded with applause again.
He ended with, “When law enforcement violates the public’s trust, they must be held accountable. As Tyre’s mom said, ‘Something good must come from this.’”
Biden’s statements on police is a slap in the face to families of Black victims
Here’s why I got pissed. This body of electors had the audacity to applaud until their hands stung as if this young man died in combat fighting for this country. His grieving parents were there, not because Tyre joined the armed forces and sacrificed his life. They were there because this country ruthlessly killed another Black man in its policy inaction and denial of racist practices altogether.
But they weren’t the only family there suffering from this awful fate. In attendance with RowVaughn and Rodney Wells was Pamela Walker, whose son, Jayland Walker, was gunned down by eight Akron, Ohio police officers last summer. George Floyd’s family was there for a second or third time along with 12 other families whose loved ones were victims of police brutality.
Pamela Walker said, “How many times do we have to go through this kind of misery? It doesn’t make any sense, every Black man should be able to grow old.” All of these families are surely thinking the same thing and feeling the same pain.
From my recollection, every SOTU address has highlighted these same issues. Every presidential regime for the past I don’t know how many years has seen a Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.
So my question is, exactly how many more Black families do we have to see paraded around the SOTU and on primetime TV before there’s actual and meaningful reform? Because at this point, these lawmakers are just playing in our faces.
SOTU: Proposed reforms collect dust with no action
As Congress cheered on Biden’s solutions, it continues to let the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act sit idle, despite demands and pleas from Black advocacy groups and parents of slain Black men and women.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers killed 1,176 people last year, 36 more than the year before. Of that number, 287 of the victims were Black. A little more than half of Congress would’ve had to surrender their seats for all of those families to attend the SOTU address.
And while some cities and states have made strides towards some level of reform, the federal government seems to have no interest in taking the lead in overhauling the entire system.
We all know this is nothing new. Over 100 years ago, cases of state-sanctioned violence against Black people were documented in places like Chicago and Harlem. Sixty years ago, one of the hallmark issues during the Civil Rights Era was police reform. This entire time, meaningful reform has managed to fall through the cracks.
U.S. refuses to look itself in the mirror
But I know one reason why police reform hasn’t and likely won’t pass anytime soon. It’s because the United States refuses to fully acknowledge its racist past – specifically with policing, which began as slave patrols – that fuels anti-Blackness today.
The minute this country faces that particular reckoning is the minute conversations about reparations, equality, equity and overall true deliverance of justice, regardless of skin color, become real.
With our track record, I’m not optimistic that we won’t see another public lynching of a Black person in the near future.
But what I do hope is that the families of these victims and the Black community overall open our eyes to the reality of what’s really happening.
These politicians won’t really care about Black bodies being brutalized by police until Black bodies take their power away by voting them out. And America can’t change its present until it acknowledges and rectifies the wrongs of its past.