AWN & APOC Fund Statement on the Murder of Tyre Nichols
The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN) and the Autistic People of Color Fund (the Fund) are profoundly saddened and angered to learn of the murder of Tyre Nichols by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.
First, we acknowledge the pain that Tyre’s family, friends, and colleagues doubtless feel after his killing. Because of his murder, Tyre—the father of a four-year-old boy—will never see his son grow up. Because of his murder, Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, must bury her own son. Because of his murder, Tyre is now but a memory to his loved ones. Our hearts go out to everyone who knew Tyre for the complex, thoughtful, kind man he was.
Second, we condemn the anti-Black, white-supremacist systems and practices that caused Tyre’s untimely death. Policing in the United States is based on fear, violence, and the systemic subjugation of marginalized people, including Black and Brown people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people. Although police departments and officers claim to act in the name of public safety, their words ring hollow when entire populations are continually rendered unsafe because of police brutality. As a Black man with a chronic health condition, Tyre was at heightened risk, thanks to racism and ableism.
Tyre himself was deeply aware of how white supremacy exerted an outsized impact on Black people in the United States. In social media posts and in person, he supported the Black Lives Matter movement and decried the police’s use of violence against innocent Black people.
The officers charged in Tyre’s death may have been Black, but they were still complicit in a system that designates Black people as “thugs” and lowlifes who must be strictly surveilled, punished, and subdued. Black people, too, can imbibe the poisonous thinking that arises from a long-standing tradition of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. When you are thought of as subhuman, you may come to see others as subhuman, too. And when you see others as subhuman, then you can act with impunity. The officers who killed Tyre viewed another Black life as expendable in the name of defending “public safety.” Black they may have been, but white supremacy invaded their thoughts and actions.
No amount of sensitivity training, no number of Black officers, can offset the dehumanizing legacy of slavery, segregation, and racialized policing. Any system that treats Black lives—Black people—as expendable is a system that cannot be reformed. It must be uprooted.
All our work at AWN and the Fund centers on building a more equitable society, one in which people’s dignity and the fullness of their being are acknowledged, regardless of their race, disability, creed, gender, sexual orientation, culture, or any other characteristic. An equitable society must not be merely nonracist; we must be antiracist. Antiracism is irreconcilable with tepid, unproven efforts to reform systems that are designed to uphold white dominance and subjugate people of other races. It involves a radical transformation of society. It is for those reasons that AWN and the Fund call for a shift from policing to community accountability, from state-sponsored violence and coercion to humane policies that repudiate white-supremacist ideologies and actions.