“Ms. Lamons, did you hear?” My text messages and social media inboxes were flooded with the news of the release of the Tyre Nichols video. Almost ashamedly, I did not recognize his name. I did not know the backstory. I did not know the video would be released today. But some things I knew for sure. I couldn’t watch. I didn’t watch. And I won’t watch.
While I knew many of my students would choose to watch it, they might not be thinking about the lasting impact this video may have on their mental health, their personal beliefs, and their perspectives on so many things in life. I reminded some of the students who reached out to me of the potential negative outcomes of watching the video. I also shared some of my personal experiences of unresolved trauma caused by police violence caught on camera.
Nearly three decades later, I still can’t get the image of Rodney King’s beating out of my mind. In 1992, I was a senior in high school. I have many seniors in my classes today. I know firsthand the negative impact that a violent video, a traumatizing trial, a painful wait for an uncertain verdict, and potential riots can have on one’s psyche. This trauma still sticks with me to this day.
Now I am in the same position as the incredibly strong Black educators I had in high school, and I understand they did their best to answer our questions and provide safe spaces for us. Still, I wonder how they did it. How did they protect their own mental health while vowing to be there to help us process so much that was negatively affecting our own? How did they muster the strength to even walk through the school doors on what seemed like continuous “Mondays after”?
As I’ve written before, as educators, “We have to again put on a brave face when many of us are still in the process of dealing with our own emotions, our own responses, and our own trauma.” My mentor, colleague, and friend turned sister Tina R. Starks said it best: “There will always be a Monday after.” So, how do teachers process yet another senseless killing of yet another Black man in America? Here are some thoughts.
Protect Your Mental Health and Encourage Students to Protect Theirs
I have seen several social media posts encouraging people to give themselves permission to NOT watch the video. I made that decision for myself, and I am going to encourage my students who might be hesitant to watch it to do the same. It is not avoidance or denial to choose to protect your peace over watching something you may not be able to unsee. You can still be outraged about the death of another Black man at the hands of law enforcement without watching the actual video. You can still be called to advocacy and activism by reading about a tragedy without having to figure out how to erase a triggering visual from one’s mind. If students do choose or have chosen to watch it, teachers need to have avenues for them to be able to process the aftermath of that decision.
Provide Outlets for Students to Express Concerns and Ask Questions About the Tyre Nichols Video
While not every educator may have the bandwidth for something like an online forum for students to confidentially have a Safe Space and a Safe Place to vent their feelings, there are other ways we can help students. Schools should set up automatic and mandatory activation of extra counseling and mental health services for students on days like this upcoming Monday. Educational facilities need to have systems and practices in place to make sure that students know they have places to go beyond a few trusted adults to ask questions, express frustrations, and work through their traumas. These added services would not only encourage students to pursue these outlets but could potentially deter instances of outbursts or alterations that often are a result of pent-up anger or frustration stemming from unresolved trauma.
Emphasize the Unified Outrage Over Injustice
While I will not watch the video, the outrage over the latest injustice caught on video has been universal. We need to emphasize this to our students to assure them that this horrific act has been condemned by the masses. It has been refreshing to see the swift and aggressive “full-throated condemnation” of many leaders around my home state of California. Throughout the country, many have shared “widespread horror.” The collective outrage has demonstrated shared grief, anger, and inevitable worry.
I share grief for Tyre Nicols’ family, who has to deal with the fact that millions will watch their family member die over and over again. I share anger at the fact that my students will once again have to figure out how to grapple with living in a world where these events are plastered on every news outlet, in every news feed, and on every social media platform. And I also share the worry with many mothers of Black sons. Together we fear for our children who have to grow up in a world where the chances of police violence increase exponentially because of the color of their skin. I will facilitate conversations with my students and be transparent about my own grief, anger and worry. While leaving space for their feelings and questions, I will acknowledge my own righteous outrage over these injustices.
A “Network of Mutuality” Connects Tyre Nichols to Our Classrooms
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote famously in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
The death of Tyre Nichols and the release of this horrendous video is another tragic incident that is a threat to the equal implementation of justice in America. From Rodney King to George Floyd to Tyre Nicols and so many others whose injustices have not been caught on camera, the “inseparable network of mutuality” puts teachers in a position where we must help our students navigate these trauma-inducing tragedies.
Whether teachers and our students choose to watch the Tyre Nichols video or not, we cannot avoid its impact. Once again, we are on the front line when it comes to helping the youth of America. Teachers will continue to create space for students to process their emotions, share their reflections, and determine actions they want to take as a result of daily racist traumas.
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