Opinion: Black Faces In White Spaces Don’t Assure Greener Pastures, Look At Tyre Nichols, Cop City

Opinion: Black Faces In White Spaces Don’t Assure Greener Pastures, Look At Tyre Nichols, Cop City

white spaces

“We need a seat at the table” is a phrase commonly used to indicate how best to eradicate racial injustice. In other words, we need to be in positions of power and influence when decisionmaking conversations impacting Black people happen. That sounds like a reasonable strategy. Representation matters … to an extent.

But those tables don’t belong to us … those tables belong to the white power structure.

Those tables are institutional white spaces, meaning the formations, maintenance and promotion of those spaces are a result of white agenda setting. Black people can ascend to leadership in those white spaces but they are still subject to the policies, procedures, and postures of those spaces.

What that looks like is Tyre Nichols being murdered by five Black police officers under the “leadership” of a Black police chief.

While some positive changes can be made, ultimately, neither the Black cops nor the Black police chief can do what Black people really want: prevent Black death. That’s because the institution is anti-Black and their working within doesn’t change that—they’ve become absorbed by the mission and meaning of the institution. The same is true with respect executive governance. Black people are well aware.

Enter Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.

Dickens called an emergency meeting at Morehouse College to convince Black students that Cop City, a planned militarized police training center, was good for the Black community. Students have protested against Cop City and its training center, which is expected to cost $90 million and occupy more than 85 acres.

Cop City officials assert that the center could improve policing, while critics claim the effort is militarizing police and endangering communities. 

Dickens told students that they were playing “the race card” for holding him accountable for city decisions to build a large military police city on indigenous land, primarily to police poor Black people. 

Dickens was promptly called a sellout for his efforts.

The Atlanta Cop City will mimic city blocks and roads with shoot houses for target practice, multiple shooting ranges, a high speed driving course and a virtual reality shooting simulator, according to StopCopCity on Instagram. It’s likely a place like this won’t keep Black people safe. That’s not heresy on my part. You can Google the evidence. Black people die at the hands of police more than anyone else.

With that said, it would make sense for a Black mayor to at least be ambivalent to the idea of such a place existing in their city. Then again, the previous mayor, who presided over the agreement of Cop City in the first place, was Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Black woman. Because representation doesn’t yield justice, although important.

As a Black educator, I can speak to the importance of representation.

Currently, less than 2 percent of teachers are Black men.The research shows without a doubt that Black men are needed in the classroom. However, Black men in isolation do not fix the racism ailing public schools and harming Black children because the public school is a white institutional space. It will take for an upheaval of that space to create a new one: the institutional space that Black people deserve.

The same is true for how we’re governed.

The policies, procedures and postures for how we’re governed have yet to comprehensively address the systemic racism that continues to harm Black people. Until the system of government is replaced by a more just system, the Andre Dickens of the world will be no different — they represent the state. We need a system that actually represents the people.

American apologists argue that the people have corrupted the structure of government. Truth is, the structure made it easy for people to do so.

Images: The screen at the Smoothie King Center honors Tyre Nichols before an NBA game in New Orleans, Jan. 28, 2023. (AP/Matthew Hinton) / Video image shows Memphis police officers talking after Tyre Nichols was brutalized, Jan. 7, 2023. (City of Memphis/AP) / Mayor-elect Andre Dickens of Atlanta speaks at the White House, Dec. 14, 2021. AP/Patrick Semansky)/Atlanta Police Foundation / Collage of officers charged with Tyre Nichols’ murder. Left to right: Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean. (Twitter / @followtmorgan).

Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .