- Published Date:
- Supporting Unit: Office of the President
Dear Howard University Community,
Yesterday, yet another police department released yet another heartbreaking video of a life senselessly taken by its law enforcement, this time in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.
The facts of this unconscionable tragedy hit particularly close to home. Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died from injuries sustained during a violent encounter with five Black Memphis policemen. Even the Memphis chief of police readily admits the officers’ behavior was “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.” All five officers have subsequently been charged for their actions and discharged from their posts, and we must keep the faith that the judicial system will hold each of them accountable.
I feel terribly sympathetic for Mr. Nichols’s family. As president and professor at Howard, every day I encounter brilliant young people growing into their independence right before my very eyes. I also know all too well how many of their parents have tried to prepare them for potentially hostile run-ins with law enforcement, but moments like these lay bare how impossible, unimaginable, unreasonable it is to prepare for the absolute worst. At a moment in history when law enforcement across the country is under increased scrutiny, we expect — if not demand — they be above reproach. This violence must stop immediately. The list of names unjustly harmed and killed by our police continues to grow apace, and that should be unacceptable to us all. This constant, sustained attack on the Black experience must end, and particularly by those we expect to protect us.
We must rally together to support all those in our community affected by Mr. Nichols’s death, and one another in general. Our University holds a great deal of affection for the state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis, evidenced in part by our longstanding Alternative Spring Break trip to the Memphis metropolitan area. For all those in our community who have family in Memphis, who may be in Memphis right now, or who feel a part of themselves to always be in Memphis, I pray you know that Howard University is here to support you in whatever way you need.
In this moment, it is necessary to grieve over another life carelessly ended. It is okay to be angry, and sad, and even shocked at the cruelty this footage exposes. Stay there as long as you need. But once you are ready, I encourage you to take those feelings and channel them into something tangible. Write about it. Sing about it. Participate in the electoral process and vote about it.
This horrific event serves as yet another reminder that violence of one form or another is a problem that plagues our society. Not only does Howard University stand against violence, but the work we do actively fights against it. When we introduce more justice, greater equality, and mutual prosperity; when we help to realize diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation; when we uphold our principles of truth and service and insist they be embraced throughout the globe, then the impulse toward violence begins to wane and a more peaceful world perseveres.
I understand that yesterday’s released footage has motivated protests across the District and the country. I only ask that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully. As we close Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday month, I feel drawn to another one of his celebrated quotes: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must continue to defeat hate with love. Times like these may test our fortitude, but love will always win.
Love is how we honor the memories of Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones, and the countless other lives gone much too soon.
Please continue to be mindful of your mental health. Use the following resources (not an exhaustive list) if you need them:
- University Counseling Service provides individualized year-round support, helping students cope with processing change, maintain mental health wellness, and manage overall feelings of uncertainty.
- The Office of the Dean of the Chapel offers spiritual care and many wellness programs.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery