Why One Mental Health Expert isn’t Watching the Tyre Nichols Video
On January 7, five Memphis police officers allegedly beat 29-year old Tyre Nichols following a traffic stop, resulting in his death. Parts of the brutal encounter were filmed by the officers’ body cameras and the video was made public. TLMN mental health contributor Niro Feliciano, LCSW, shares this personal essay about her decision not to watch the footage.
Recently one morning, I tiptoed into my almost 14 year old son’s bedroom. He is nearly 5’8”, has had a deeper voice than my husband since he was 12, has a mop of dark curly hair and brown skin like his mama. He’s a dedicated soccer player who plays for a premier team and a kind and thoughtful brother to three sisters.
Recently he brought home a Student of the Month award. When I congratulated him and read him the description of why he received it – being a positive example, having a fantastic work ethic, demonstrating kindness and being an exemplary scholar – he said, “It’s not a big deal. It’s what you are supposed to do.”
What I noticed as he lay sleeping was a pale blue dog attached to a small lovie blanket that sat propped near his head. I know that my son sleeps better, even at the age of 14, with this buddy by his side. I also know that although he looks like a young man to the world, his heart is still that of a young boy.
Videos like the one of Tyre Nichols are devastating to any mother, but they hit you differently when you are a mother to a dark-skinned son. I think of Tyre Nichols as a son to a woman who loved him deeply. I think of how many mornings she may have woken him up and still saw a boy, even when he was grown. I think of the fact that he had a tattoo of her name on his arm and what that might have meant for their relationship. Did he find her every morning to give her a bear hug before he got on the bus, as my son does?
I’m not naive; I know these horrific events happen. I pray for the victims and their families and work to make a difference through support and education. But no longer want to see the videos of those tragic last moments.
As an anxiety specialist with anxiety, I know too well that anxiety is a fragile state mentally, physically and emotionally. Those who have experienced it know how powerful and consuming it can be. Vicarious trauma is still trauma. It has an impact on our mental state, ability to function and wellbeing.
As parents, our wellbeing is often directly related to the wellbeing of our children. For this reason, I do what I can to protect my mind and heart, so I can continue to live the life I am called to as a wife, a mother, a speaker, a writer and as a therapist.
Please don’t think I don’t feel the hurt, the fear, the desperation and the anger of injustice. Those emotions cycle powerfully within me. But I have learned to feel them in a way that is productive and not paralyzing. This requires setting boundaries and knowing my limits to preserve my ability to think, to love and to serve. The decision not to watch the video is a choice that I have thoughtfully made.
Not every choice is for every person. You have the ability and responsibility to make choices that best serve you and your families. And if people don’t agree, please think about this: If you wouldn’t ask them for advice, don’t be swayed by their criticism.
Niro Feliciano is a mother of four, a cognitive psychotherapist, and the author of This Book Won’t Make You Happy, Eight Keys to Finding True Contentment. You can find her @nirofeliciano and nirofeliciano.com.