Sheena Nichols was photographer with an eye on the natural world. He was especially attracted by landscape portraiture, its calmness and innocence. Nichols is said to have enjoyed holding his lens up, capturing as much sunlight as he could before it faded into the horizon. As he was driving home from his January 7 photo shoot, he was pulled over by Memphis police, and what happened next was as tragic as it was terribly mundane. Tyre Nichols died at the age of 29.
The last moments of Nichols’ life are surrounded by ominous poetry that tells how video of his arrest frames it, devoid of all beauty and devoid of hope. As a photographer, Nichols found a response in the simple wonders around him. The last recorded pictures of him subvert his creative eye and what his artistry aspired to: they show how grotesque, ugly and indifferent the institutions of power can be.
At the request of Nichols’ mother, RowVon Wells, the video of Nichols’ traffic stop was made public on Friday, January 27. Perhaps hoping to soften the shock of the footage, the police department released the video in the evening, at a time when online chatter usually tipped into balance. But the main scream of the video cannot be drowned out. Like many black mothers before her, Wells, like her son, strives for the power of the image, and all images are understandable. She wanted the world to witness the brutality shown by the officers accused of fatally attacking her son. “He had bruises all over his body. My head is swollen like a watermelon. His neck was splitting from the swelling. They broke his neck. my son’s nose [looked] like the letter S,” said Wells. interview with CNN about what she saw when she visited Nichols in the hospital.
On the net, an air of tense anticipation swept through my timeline. Such recordings have an unnatural traction. A perverted awe of the spectacle is the inevitability of modern life. They illustrate how every viral TikTok or news video posted on Twitter forces us to watch, react and move quickly. But what is embedded in the Nichols clip cannot be easily swept aside. The record confirms the sad fact of the existence of blacks: most often our life remains such only as a condition of the state.
To understand the essence of the American police force, one must understand the nature of American institutions, how and for whom they work. Believing that black officers will stop traffic differently than non-black officers is one of the great lies of police reform. An entity that accumulates power always seeks only to preserve and increase it. As the old saying goes, not all Skinfolk are related.
Nichols, as we now know, faced an impossibility; it was impossible to avoid what the five officers were demanding of him, a chorus of conflicting instructions. An investigation The newspaper “New York Times found that the officers “issued a flurry of commands”—71 in total, according to the analysis—”that were confusing, contradictory, and sometimes even impossible to execute.”