This is the tale of two Black men in America. Both with infectious smiles. Both loved by their families. Both living happy lives on their own terms. Both faced death. One came out alive, beloved by an entire nation. The other died at the hands of those who were sworn to serve and protect. And, the differences in how white* America reacted to his death, tells a harrowing tale.
Like many football fans, I looked forward to the Bengals/Bills game. It was an important game between two young QBs and their teams, with lots of playoff implications. This was going to be fun. Until it wasn't.
What looked like a normal hit that takes place thousands of times in the NFL, turned into something much more serious for Damar Hamlin. Texting back and forth with my brother, Andy, while we waited and watched, we both knew this was bad. Players on both teams were crying. People prayed. And, still the doctors and paramedics worked.
The entire country came together for Damar Hamlin. No matter what team fans, players and coaches rooted for, everyone was a fan of #3. He was one of us, and we wanted him to live.
The Other Side: Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols loved to skateboard. He loved taking pictures, particularly of the sunset. He was a dad, a son, and a free-spirit. He was a creative 29-year-old, who said he wanted to "... bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens."
That all ended for Tyre Nichols on January 7, 2023. He was headed home after taking pictures of the sky, when he was pulled over for what should have been a routine traffic stop. It turned into something else entirely.
Two minutes from home, he was brutally attacked, tased, beaten and pepper-sprayed by police officers. The beating continued as he cried for his mom.
Tyre Nichols died of his injuries three days later.
While much of the nation mourns Tyre Nichols' death, there is a difference between how some white Americans view the tragedy, and the support we all had for Damar Hamlin. For Tyre Nichols, the question, "Why did he run?" keeps coming up. It's a question only a white person would ask.
Here's why he ran: George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor and Daunte Wright to name a few. Black people die when they encounter police.
There is no question that Tyre Nichols saw the hatred and viciousness in the eyes of his attackers. He tried to save himself, but he had no chance. His fate was sealed when they surrounded him like a pack of wild dogs, hitting him, shouting orders while simultaneously tasing and spraying him.
Yes, the police officers were Black. Why did not one of those involved in the murder attempt to stop it? Aside from the systematic racism inherent in this country, the problem is police culture. Several officers involved in the attack on Tyre already had reprimands on their records. Why were they still on the streets?
Why did their initial reports vary widely from what actually happened? The truth is in the video.
Why is our police force militarized? Why do police forces have tanks, and weapons of war to police people in our own country? Why are bad cops allowed to stay, or simply move on to other locations? Why do so many traffic stops end in the deaths of Black people?
The real question in my mind is, how can so many white Americans still ask "Why did he run?" Open your eyes. And, hearts. The system is wrong. And, we have to come together, like we all did for Damar Hamlin, and do something about it.
* AP Style designates that "white" is not capitalized.