Honoring Tyre Nichols & Why People With Empathy May Never Understand Those Who Lack It

Once again, we are grieving the loss of yet another apparently innocent young Black man who is crying out for mercy and his mother. Even though parts of me think I should force myself to watch the video of the murder, my empath parts can’t stomach it and just feel helpless and powerless. I know watching the violence will not answer the question I would want it to answer- “Why? Why would five Black police officers murder one of their own? Why would they not stop when they realized they had gone too far? Where are their hearts? Where is their humanity? Where is the dignity for human life? If they don’t care about human life and justice, don’t they even care about getting caught? What possessed these men to do something so violent and horrific? Why couldn’t they stop themselves or at least call 911 right away once they realized Tyre Nichols was dying?”

As a doctor who committed my life to ease the suffering of those in pain, as someone deeply invested in trauma healing and relief of emotional torment, I can’t relate to how hardened someone’s heart must be to just keep beating a dying brother human and then delay getting that man help for as long as these five officers delayed.

I’ve realized only recently that the young, naive, gullible, idealistic parts of me keep trying to understand why ruthless, entitled, narcissistic people who abuse power keep hurting innocent people and don’t feel remorse for what they’ve done. From studying narcissistic abuse and coercive control recovery, I’ve learned that people who have not had their empathy traumatized out of us tend to assume that everyone else is like us. We make the assumption that if we saw someone suffering, we would rush to their aid, and if they cried out in pain, we would stop whatever we were doing and feel intense regret and remorse. If we lost control for a moment and let our rage get the best of us, all it would take is for someone to cry “Mercy!” or “Mommy help me!” and our hearts would stop whatever abuse we might be perpetrating.

But people strongly blended with power-hungry, narcissistic, and sociopathic parts are wired differently. Rather than feeling empathy when someone weakened and in pain is suffering, they may even feel a hit of sadistic pleasure in hearing someone’s pleas for mercy. The more someone cries, the more the bullies get off on the hit of power that inflates them, makes them feel superior, and causes them to justify just beating someone harder.

If I watched the video, I would feel like watching in some way honored the dead, so in some way the death wasn’t completely ignored or in vain. By watching it, it would be my way of showing solidarity for Black Lives Matter and for Tyre Nichols and those who loved him. Maybe watching the reality of the police brutality on video would motivate me more to get more politically active, to protest more loudly, to let my righteous anger fuel me to pressure our government to make these injustices stop.

If I watched the video, I might also be trying to find some way to humanize the murderers so as not to feel the helplessness and powerlessness I feel when I realize how many narcissistic and sociopathic people are abusing power and driving our species off the cliff on the backs of the most innocent among us. I would be trying to imagine these cops as little boys who must have been overpowered in childhood in such a devastating way or so oppressed while they were growing up that they became the oppressors and lost touch with being able to treat a fellow human with dignity and respect, as a way to hate the cops less and empathize more.

I would be trying to avoid feeling the utter powerlessness that Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and all the others like them must have felt and that I feel when I watch them getting senselessly tortured and murdered. Watching the video would be a small way I could show my care and extend my empathy and suffer alongside the man who suffered in the video and later died as the result of the beatings.

But I am choosing not to watch the video, not because I don’t care, but because it won’t bring him back and it won’t answer the “why” questions. Because there is no reason for such an irrational or senseless act of violence.

I’ve realized that humans wired for empathy simply cannot understand why people with closed hearts and no empathy do what they do, and dysregulating my own nervous system by watching violence I’m powerless to stop doesn’t help save Tyre Nichols or his family. But it does help, maybe in some small way, to leverage my own power and privilege by saying his name and honoring his dignity and expressing my empathy for everyone who suffers every time one of our own is treated as if they matter less than those with big sticks and enough power to abuse it.

As Paul Farmer says, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

What does help is fighting for justice for Tyre Nichols and fighting for police reform. Let us hold each other in our collective grief and pressure our politicians to change laws so police brutality and all abuses of power against the innocent and vulnerable are stopped and that the perpetrators of senseless violence and abuses of power are held accountable.

Let us remember that #BlackLivesMatter (and that we shouldn’t have to lose more innocent BIPOC in order to keep that on the tip of our consciousness.)

And let us #SayTheName out loud, and let our hearts break together.

Aaron Bailey  

Abner Louima   

Abram Smith  

Adrian Medearis   

Ahmaud Arbery  

Aiyana Stanley-Jones     

Akai Gurley   

Albert Joseph Davis   

Albert Woodfox    

Alberta Spruill 

Alexia Christian    

Alonzo Smith   

Alteria Woods    

Alton Sterling   

Amadou Diallo    

Amanda Milan 

Amber Monroe 

Anarcha (last name unknown)   

Andrew Wright  

Anthony Anderson   

Anthony Ashford   

Anthony Hill   

Anthony Lamar Smith  

Antron McCray   

Antronie Scott  

Antwon Rose Jr.     

Arminta Cobb    

Arthur McDuffie 

Ashanti Carmon    

Ashton O’Hara 

Asshams Pharoah Manley   

Atatiana Jefferson  

Benjamin Chavis   

Bennie Lee Tignor 

Betsey (last name unknown)

Bettie Jones    

Billy Ray Davis 

Bobby Hutton    

Botham Jean 

Brendon Glenn    

Brian Keith Day 

Breonna Taylor    

Brooklyn Lindsey 

Calin Roquemore    

Cariol Horne  

Carter Howard    

Chanelle Pickett 

Charleena Lyles    

Charles Bruce

Charles Greenlee   

Charles Kinsey   

Charles Lang  

Charles Weems   

Charlie Pollard  

Christian Cooper   

Christian Taylor  

Christopher S. Brown   

Christopher Davis 

Christopher McCorvey   

Christopher Whitfield  

Claire Legato   

Clarence Norris  

Claude Neal   

Claude Reese  

Clementa Pinckney   

Clifford Glover  

Connie Tindall   

Corey Jones  

Cornelius Fredericks   

Cynthia Hurd  

Dana Martin   

Daniel Simmons    

Danny Ray Thomas   

Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr.  

Dante Parker   

Danye Jones  

Darius Robinson   

Darrius Stewart  

David Joseph   

David McAtee  

Deborah Danner   

Decynthia Clements  

DeeNiquia Dodds   

Dejuan Hall Delrawn Small 

Demarcus Semer   

Demetrius Bryan Hollins   

DePayne Middleton-Doctor   

Derrick Scott  

Diamond Bradley 

Dominic Hutchinson 

Dominique Fells 

Dominique Clayton   

Donald Ivy  

Dontre Hamilton   

Dravon Ames   

Dreasjon Reed   

Duane Wight  

Dyzhawn Perkins   

Edmund Perry  

Eleanor Bumpurs   

Elijah McClain  

Elisha Walker   

Emmett Till  

Eric Garner   

Eric Courtney Harris  

Eric Reason   

Ernest Green  

Ernest Hendon   

Ernest Thomas  

Ethel Lee Lance   

Eugene Williams  

Eugene Williams   

Ezell Ford  

Fannie Lou Hamer   

Felix Kumi  

Floyd Dent     

Frank Smart  

Frankie Perkins   

Fred Hampton    

Fred Simmons   

Freddie Blue    

Freddie Gray   

Freddie Lee Tyson   

Frederick Moss    

Frederick Taft   

George Floyd    

George Key 

George Mann    

George Stinney Jr.   

Gregory Riley   

George Robinson

Harvey E. Clark Jr.

Hayes Turner    

Haywood Patterson   

Henrietta Lacks    

Herman Wallace

Herman Shaw     

Iesha Harper   

India Kager    

Isadore Banks   

Jacob Blake    

Jacqueline Craig   

Jaisha Akins    

Jamal Williams       

Jamar Clark    

Jamel Floyd   

James Cobb, Sr. 

James “Bun” McKoy   

James Byrd Jr.    

James Cameron   

James Chaney    

James Mincey Jr.   

James Powell    

Janet Wilson   

Janine Africa   

Javier Ambler   

Jazzaline Ware    

Jemel Roberson   

Jerame Reid    

Jerry Dwight Brown   

Jerry Jacobs   

John Crawford III   

Johnnie Jermaine Rush   

Jonathan Ferrell    

Jonathan Sanders   

Jordan Davis    

Jordan Edwards   

Joseph Mann    

Joyce Curnell   

Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis

Junior Prosper    

Justus Howell   

Kaia Rolle    

Kalief Browder   

Kathryn Johnston    

Kayla Moore   

Keith Childress Jr.   

Keith Harrison McLeod   

Keith Scott    

Kendrec McDade   

Kendrick Johnson    

Kenne McFadden   

Kevin Hicks    

Kevin Matthews   

Kevin Richardson    

Kisha Michael   

Kiwi Herring    

Korey Wise   

Korryn Gaines    

La’Vante Biggs   

Lamontez Jones     

Laquan McDonald   

LaTanya Haggerty    

Latasha Harlins   

Lateisha Green    

LaVena Johnson   

Lennon Lacy    

Leroy Wright   

Lionel Morris   

Lucy (last name unknown)

Malaika Brooks    

Malcolm Harsch   

Malissa Williams    

Manuel Ellis   

Marco Loud    

Mario Woods   

Mark Clark   

Marshall H. Dunbar 

Marvin “Chili” Patrick    

Mary Truxillo   

Mary Turner and her unborn child   

Matilda Heslip    

Matthew Ajibade   

Maurice Gordon    

MeShon Cooper   

Michael Brown   

Michael George Smith, Jr.   

Michael Lee Marshall   

Michael Lorenzo Dean  

Michael Noel   

Michael Sabbie    

Michael Stewart   

Michelle Cusseaux    

Michelle Shirley   

Michelle Washington    

Miguel Espinal   

Miriam Carey    

Monika Diamond   

Muhlaysia Booker    

Mya Hall   

Myra Thompson    

Nania Cain Jr.

Natasha McKenna   

Nathaniel Harris Pickett   

Nia Wilson    

Nina Pop   

Nizah Morris    

Oluwatoyin Salau   

Oscar Grant    

Otis “Titi” Gulley   

Otis Byrd    

Ozie Powell   

Pamela Turner    

Paterson Brown   

Paul O’Neal    

Pearlie Golden   

Peter Gaines    

Philando Castile   

Phillip White    

Prince C. Jones, Jr.   

Quintonio LeGrier    

Raheim Brown   

Ralkina Jones    

Ramarley Graham   

Ramona Africa     

Randolph Evans   

Randy Nelson    

Raymond Santana   

Rayshard Brooks    

Recy Taylor   

Reginald Epps    

Rekia Boyd   

Renisha McBride    

Riah Milton   

Richard Collins III    

Richard Perkins   

Rita Hester    

Robert Fuller   

Robert King    

Robert Russ   

Rodney King    

Ronell Foster   

Rumain Brisbon    

Safiya Satchell   

Saheed Vassell    

Salecia Johnson   

Salvado Ellswood    

Sam Doner   

Samuel DuBose    

Samuel Shepherd   

Sandra Bland    

Sean Bell   

Secoriea Turner     

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton     

Sheffield Collins    

Shereese Francis   

Steven Taylor    

Stephon Clark   

Sterling Higgins       

Susie Jackson    

Sylville Smith 

Taemon Blair    

Tamir Rice   

Tanisha Anderson    

Tarika Wilson   

Terence Crutcher    

Terrance Franklin   

Terrill Thomas    

Thomas Shipp   

Timothy Coggins    

Tionda Bradley   

Tony McDade   

Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.   

Torrey Robinson    

Trayvon Martin   

Troy Robinson    

Tyre King   

Tyree Crawford    

Tyrone West   

Tyshawn Lee    

Tywanza Sanders   

Victor Manuel Larosa   

Walter Irvin   

Walter McMillian    

Walter Scott   

Wayne Moore   

Wendell Celestine   

Willa Bruce    

William “Joe” Wright, Jr.   

William Chapman II    

Willie Earl Vereen   

Willie Jones Jr.    

Willie Roberson   

Willie Tillman    

Williemae Mack

Winfred Rembert   

Yusef Salaam    

Yvette Smith   

Yvonne Smallwood    

Zella Ziona

(and anyone I inadvertently left out)