The Killing of Tyre Nichols: An Eruption of Violence

If you haven’t seen the video, you certainly have heard about the savage beating of Tyre Nichols, which led to his death,  murder charges brought against five Memphis police offers who carried out the atrocity, and their subsequent firing.

Brutal, horrific, evil.  And real.

And I am sad, angry, defeated.  And disoriented.  As I always am when evil shows up.  At some level I know evil exists.  I am familiar with the dynamics which can cause it to emerge – and I have learned how to stay out of evil’s way.  And I know that not everyone can.

And then evil happens.  Torture, trafficking, ruthless violence.  Most of the time we only hear or read about about it.  But this time we can see it – in graphic detail.  And when I see the evil – not the fabricated evil described in novels or depicted in movies and TV dramas; no, the real evil as we saw it in the released video;  my first reaction is to want to unsee it.  How can this be happening?  How can people be so cruel?  I want to push it out of my consciousness, and remove it from my soul — because evil doesn’t belong there.

The last time (and I think only time) I punched someone was when I was about twelve years old.  A group of us were walking to our weekly Boy Scout meeting, held every Monday evening.  We reluctantly included Danny.  Most of us didn’t like him.  He was incredibly annoying.  He started taunting me, and wouldn’t give up.  And when he said something insulting about my sister, I swung.

I hit him in the finger.  No damage done.

I immediately apologized.  My punch surprised me more than it did Danny.  And I said then – and I continue to say now, that I am not a violent person.  And I’m not – at least physically.  But I can get verbally violent – especially in traffic (thankfully the windows are almost always rolled up).  I can curse loudly – and violently, at some news story that offends my sense of justice.  And I mean it.  These outbursts surprise me – because I didn’t think I had that level of venom in me.

But I do.  We do.

We are living at a time when violence is permitted, if not encouraged.  There are more and more entrepreneurs of violence who are annoying, taunting and insulting – and won’t give up.  And when we swing or shoot or swear in some sort of response  – and point back to those who egged us on, the reaction is almost always, “What, me?  I didn’t do anything.”

The police are meant to be public safety officers.  Assigned to keep the peace.  And often they do.  But there is a violent dimension in the DNA of policing in this country.  One of the primary responsibilities of police departments in the 19th century was to seek out, capture, and return runaway slaves.  There was nothing nonviolent about that enterprise.  What we saw in the Tyre Nichols video was abominable, yes, but also a logical extension of their history.  At some level, it is what we have asked them to do.

The five officers need to be prosecuted.  And at the same time, we need to take stock of the fact that we live in a violent country.  That evil can show up in unspeakable ways.  It is tempting to ascribe the evil impulses to others; but we carry it in us as well.  It can burst forth.  If we are going to have an impact on reducing violence, it is important to acknowledge that it is embedded in our culture, and seeps into our psyches.

We can’t afford not to see that.  As Jesus said, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:5)


What Do The Risks of Aleksei Navalny and Jesus Say to Us?

When Aleksei Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January 2021 after recovering from being poisoned, prison was certain and death was likely.   Navalny died on Friday, February 16 at the IK-3 Penal Colony, located 1200 miles northeast of Moscow in the arctic...

Aging, the Election and a Pathway Through the Chaos

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump too old to be President?  This question is getting a lot of attention, with no end of commentary.  Assessments are being made as to each candidate’s physical stamina, mental acuity, and psychological health.  Recommendations have been...

Immigration: Moving Beyond Technical Fix to Adaptive Challenge

In 2013 I spent a couple of days at the southern border with a group of fellow bishops.  We stayed in Douglas Arizona, but several times made our way through the checkpoint into Agua Prieta, Mexico.  A small group of us helped deliver water to the several water tanks...

From a Dentist’s Chair: Musings on Vulnerability

Last week I sat for two hours in a periodontist’s office while receiving a dental implant.  My mouth was adequately and expertly numbed, and the only discomfort I felt was the anxiety I experienced when the periodontist began to drill into my jawbone.  There was not...

I Versus We

Some fifty years ago, The Episcopal Church, along with many other Christian denominations, went through a liturgical upgrade.  The Nicene Creed, which was first written in 325 during the Council of Nicea (and from which its name is derived), and which is said at most...

Ep 10 – “How We Learn to Be Brave” with Bishop Mariann Budde

We discuss the process of discernment in decisive moments in life and faith, and how God calls us to be brave in such moments.

Ep 9 – “Following the Way of Jesus” with Pastor Raymond Chang

We discuss the roots of Ray’s faith commitment, the origins and nature of his work to prevent gun violence and racialized violence, current events in Israel and Palestine, and the role of reconciliation in all of this.

Stepping Out of Fear and Into Light and Hope

It was someone else’s story, but over the years I have retold it as if it has become my own.  It was Gardner Taylor’s story, which he told at the end of a sermon during my first year of divinity school, nearly fifty years ago.  Dr. Taylor was then the pastor of...

Ep 8 – “Finding Solutions Together” with Angela Ferrell-Zabala

Our discussion touches on faith and love for our neighbors and Angela shares the powerful example and influence of her mother on her life.

Where Does Evil Come From? How Best to Deal with It?

Several years ago, while still an active bishop, I facilitated a meeting that I suspected would not go well.  It didn’t.  People, including me, came in angry or scared – or both.  Half the group resisted the agenda, and the other half resented the resisters.   Nearly...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!