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Official Oppression

Many layers to how I'm processing the murder of Tyre Nichols. I imagine others are trying to work their way through the layers as well.

But here's what sticking out to me. That among the charges of which the 5 officers were indicted, one of them was "Official Oppression" The stringing together of those two words raised and eyebrow and so I went to Google:

"2010 TN Code 39-16-403. Official Oppression.

(a) A public servant acting under color of office or employment commits an offense who:

(1) Intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, stop, frisk, halt, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment or lien when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful; or

(2) Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful.

(b) For purposes of this section, a public servant acts under color of office or employment if the public servant acts, or purports to act, in an official capacity or takes advantage of the actual or purported capacity.

(c) An offense under this section is a Class E felony.

(d) Charges for official oppression may be brought only by indictment, presentment or criminal information; provided, that nothing in this section shall deny a person from pursuing other criminal charges by affidavit of complaint."

It's interesting that there is a law on the book that on it's face speaks to the reality of what it means to be Black in the shadow of a nation given over to "trigger happy policing." A law that summarizes with little ambiguity the very nature of policing in America particularly when it engages Black life.

Here's what I am trying to say (I think). There is a law on the books that in describing a Class E felony actually describes with accuracy the way Black folks are made to endure police presence (when the police are Black or otherwise).

Having for 4 years been part of an NYPD sponsored youth engagement program, and experienced some of the most caring and invested police officers who had a hand in shaping the man I am today, I will also never forget the silent disdain and often outright contempt I experienced from sworn officers even as I was considered "one of the good ones."

The abiding cultural reality of policing and Black life is one that "Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful." That's what I'm trying to say (I think).

And what I really hope is that we can just tell the truth and say, this is the reality, this is the aim of policing, and let's stop telling pretty lies about it. Because if we tell the truth, then maybe we can use the energy taken up by lying to envision a better way of being.

Rev. Joshua Narcisse

Director of Spiritual Care at Church Health

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