Tyre Nichols, Black History Month and Biola

There is space to mourn Nichols’s death as well as celebrate Black history.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A demonstrator at the Ohio State House in Columbus, Ohio protests Tyre Nichols’s death.

Hannah Larson, Editor-in-Chief

One of the first things one sees after clicking on the “MasterPieces” tab of Tyre Nichols’s photography website is a snapshot of a crowded Beale Street illuminated by neon signs and bursting with life. The brightly lit thoroughfare teeming with people is an eye-catching juxtaposition with another featured photo of a deserted black and white bridge with a single “Beale St.” sign. There, the vibrancy, energy and beauty of Beale Street vanish and a cold steel framework devoid of light and color comes into view. What once was bright is now bleak.

On Jan. 7, Memphis police officers pulled Nichols — a father, photographer, skateboarder and FedEx employee — out of his vehicle during a traffic stop for an unspecified reason while he was stopped at a red light. The officers then held him down and pepper-sprayed him in the face while he showed no resistance. After several minutes, Nichols broke free and ran.

The officers chased Nichols, caught up with him about eight minutes later and pummeled him. The police made a series of demands Nichols physically could not obey, like ordering Nichols to show them his hands while other officers held his hands behind his back. Nichols died in the hospital on Jan.10, three days after the horrific beating. Memphis police released the video of the encounter on Friday, Jan. 27.


On Monday, Jan. 30, Biola sent out a statement in that week’s Student Life Newsletter which said, in part, “Many in our community are feeling hurt, grief and sorrow after learning of the horrific tragedy that occurred in Memphis this month.” Tyre Nichols’s name was not mentioned and the circumstances of this mysterious Memphis tragedy went unexplained.  

On the following Monday, Feb. 6, Biola sent out a statement in the Student Life Newsletter at 5:13 p.m. informing students about a “Processing Memphis” gathering to be held roughly two hours later in Calvary Chapel at 7 p.m. 

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Spiritual Development co-hosted the event, which the newsletter described as a time of lament “designed to provide space for processing, sharing, listening and expressing the pain from the recent death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. As a Biola community, we seek to hold the uniqueness of this pain together.”

Nichols’ death is a tragedy and an outrage but, sadly, the pain flowing from it which impacts American society is not unique. The grief that ensues after yet another story of police officers beating, injuring and often killing unarmed Black men is common to the extent that some are becoming desensitized to this news; others, cyclically re-traumatized by such pervasive cruelty. 

While the actions of these policemen are not representative of all law enforcement officers, they do represent a disturbing pattern of police brutality against people of color which continues to go unchecked. Tyre Nichols’s story is not just a remnant of our nation’s violent past — it is a testament to our collective, continual complacency toward the root of the hatred which harms so many of America’s citizens of color.


Further down in the Jan. 30 newsletter, a cheerful “Black History Month” graphic erupting with red and yellow flowers invited readers to explore the Black History celebrations that Biola is hosting this month, including two chapels and Gospel Fest. While the Black community’s recurrent suffering demands our attention, so does their joy, success and resilience in the face of discrimination.

The newsletter is a microcosm of the tension between the pain of Nichols’s death and the dignity of his life. Black History Month is a time to dignify the afflicted by recognizing all aspects of their humanity, which requires that we hold space for all that it means to be Black in America: to be brilliant; to be creative; to be the cornerstone of our music, art and culture — and to have done all of this in the face of opposition.

There is complexity in this time here at Biola and in the United States as a whole. Flashing red and blue lights atop police cruisers and the dazzling glow of Beale Street are coexisting realities which collided on Jan. 7 when five policemen beat a young photographer driving home. 

Tyre Nichols is more than a victim of a savage assault; Black history is more than centuries of violence and abuse in the United States. It is right to acknowledge the tension — to celebrate the beauty of Nichols’s art and humanity while mourning his unjust death at the hands of police. It would have been right to say Tyre Nichols’s name in the Jan. 30 newsletter; to grieve his passing while acknowledging the beauty of his life. It is right to say his name and mourn his death in this article while celebrating the wonder of his life and art.

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