I am not unaware of the racial difficulties in our culture. Two of my sons are black and have had to deal with this. They have been followed by police in our neighborhood and on the interstate. One was stopped by State Police on I-95 for no particular reason other than he was black (they said suspicion of drugs). He was scared to death. Listening to the cultural narrative post-George Floyd, he was convinced he might die at the hand of police. Another son was lied to by police in order to incriminate himself.  I am not unaware of the problem.

But I have had several uncomfortable thoughts roiling through my mind concerning the terrible death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

First, did any of those black Memphis police officers and EMTs (now fired and/or arrested) leave the house that morning thinking about killing a black man? I think we can say, “Of course not.” But they were, each and every one of them, certainly thinking about coming home alive at the end of their shift, despite whatever dangers they might face. And a very troubling and uncomfortable truth is that police face far more danger — statistically and unarguably — from young black men than from men of any other race. Let me be clear: this fact does not excuse the barbaric treatment of Mr. Nichols, but it cannot be dismissed from the conversation. My black sons have been suspects simply because so many other young black men are statistically criminals. Is it wrong that police will suspect and treat a Black man differently? Yes. Is it a legitimate fear on the part of police? Also, yes. And this is part of the conversation we are not allowed to have in our cultural moment. And any solutions run far deeper than “End Racism” bumper stickers. It begins with fathers in the home, discipline in the family, and a community that builds hope and expects success for young black men.

Second troubling thought: Now every single one of these first responders in Memphis has lost their career, their reputation, and perhaps, their freedom. And I think they will say they were trying to do their job. A suspect fought back and fled; and they responded. A related uncomfortable thought: how many young people or their parents will decide that law enforcement is no longer a career option after yet another altercation like this? Why risk your life being a first responder when, by acting wrongly or badly under pressure, you end up in jail? Who wants that risk every day?

Hear me, please! . . . these police obviously responded badly, perhaps (time will tell) criminally — probably due (at least in part) to poor training in the aftermath of “defund the police” movements. When a culture defunds the police, maligns the police, and scales back on its forces, expect more of this: poor training, perhaps even poor candidates accepted and put into dangerous situations; and bad things happening as a result.

Third very uncomfortable thought that I have not heard a single person ask: Why did Mr. Nichols run? Would he have been killed if he had simply complied? Some are now saying despite the five black law officers, this is yet more evidence of systemic racism. Further, that the later revelation of a white police officer somehow implicated is another sign of racism. Some say if Mr. Nichols were white, he would have been treated differently — good question for the cops. But I think if a white guy, or any guy, fights back, escapes and runs, it will go badly when he is caught — in the best of circumstances and training. At that point, he becomes a threat to the survival of the cops. Again, this does not excuse what these five officers did, but I have heard and read repeatedly that Mr. Nichols was an innocent man and father (they always throw that in, . . . but without any further comment, like “is he married to his child’s mother?”), . . . so why did he run and endanger himself?

Fourth troubling question worth asking: Would these five officers have been fired, arrested, and charged with murder as quickly as they were if they were white? And related to this, of course: Sadly, if these officers had been white (or a mixed combination of races as in Minneapolis), we would see cities burning yet again. But they were all black officers, quickly fired and arrested so . . . for some profoundly confusing and uncomfortable reason, there has been relative peace.

God help us.