“But somehow we survive
severance, deprivation, loss
Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark
hissing their menace to our lives,
most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror,
rendered unlovely and unlovable;
sundered are we and all our passionate surrender
but somehow tenderness survives.”
-Dennis Brutus (from “Somehow we survive”)
MY MEMPHIS TRAUMA REVOLVES AROUND THE UNIVERSE OF WILEY BENTON WHO WAS ONE OF TWELVE CHLDREN BORN TO MY MATERNAL GREAT GRANDPARENTS, BUD AND LETTIE BERNETTE BENTON. THE BROTHER OF MY GRANDMOTHER, DOLLIE, A YOUNG WILEY LEFT HOME TO RUN AN ERRAND, ONE DAY IN 1930’s MEMPHIS. HE WALKED IN A PART OF THE CITY WHERE HOUSES FADED INTO TREES AND WHERE THE PAVEMENT DRIFTED TO DIRT ROAD, CHANGED TO LEAVES AND BRANCHES UNDERFOOT, SNAPPING AND BREAKING BENEATH HIS FOOTSTEPS. HOURS, DAYS LATER, WILEY NEVER RETURNED HOME. NEVER. HIS WAS THE EMPTY PLATE AT EVERY FAMILY REUNION IN MEMPHIS AND DURING ALL THE CHRISTMAS DINNERS OF HIS SIBLINGS IN CHICAGO AND LOS ANGELES.
on January 7, 2023 police officers pulled over TYRE NICHOLS for alleged reckless driving. what should have been a routine stop turned instead to his battle with death as five police officers beat and tased the 29-year-old to death. TYRE, father to a four-year old, was a skater who had a website called “THIS CALIFORNIA KID” documenting his skating life in sacramento. he had come to memphis during the pandemic to live with his MOM and was working with his STEPFATHER at fedex. his killers were members of the memphis police unit called scorpion (street crimes operation to restore peace in our neighborhoods) that the department formed in november 2021. following the murder of TYRE, the unit was disbanded.
in nigeria, there had been years of complaints about the police unit called sars (special anti-robbery squad). authorities formed the unit in lagos in the early 1990’s, and later it was expanded as part of a national police strategy. nigerian citizens complained of being arrested, detained, and tortured by sars officers. two incidents in 2020 set off national and international protests against the police unit – an arrested MAN falling off a police vehicle in early october in delta state who onlookers presumed dead and then police killing protestor, JIMOH ISIAKA, on october 10 in oyo state. a few days after those two incidents and their subsequent protests, the police replaced sars with a new swat unit.
INDULGING IN HER ROLE AS THE BEST SOUL FOOD CHEF OF THE TWO MEMPHIS SIBLINGS THAT MIGRATED TO L.A., MY AUNTIE TILLIE COOKED CHRISTMAS DINNER AT HER HOUSE EVERY YEAR. TILLIE (HAYDEE MAE) WAS AN OLDER SISTER OF MY GRANDMOTHER. AS THE TWO OF THEM TALKED ABOUT MUNDANE INCIDENTS OF DAILY LIFE, THEIR CONVERSATION MEANDERED TOWARDS MEMPHIS MEMORY WHEREUPON THEY EVOKED THE EMPTY PLATE OF THEIR BROTHER WILEY. AND FROM WILEY, MY AUNT TILLIE ALWAYS SHIFTED TO STORIES OF HER LATE HUSBAND, DAVID, WHO DIED A YOUNG MAN YEARS BEFORE I WAS EVER ABLE TO MEET HIM. DAVID SERVED IN THE SEGREGATED MILITARY OF THE UNITED STATES, AND HIS IMAGE, WITH HIM IN UNIFORM, STARED OUT AT US FROM AN END TABLE IN MY AUNT’S LIVING ROOM. WITHOUT FAIL, AT SOME POINT IN THE EVENING, AUNT TILLIE WOULD BEND OVER HER WOODEN RECORD PLAYER, PICK UP THE NEEDLE AND PLACE IT ON DINAH WASHINGTON’S LP JUST AT THE LINE WHERE “A COTTAGE FOR SALE” BEGINS.
the five officers who killed TYRE NICHOLS in memphis were fired. as the nation goes through these cycles of police abuse and firings, we know that firing officers doesn’t end our colonial status as Black people within a system of white supremacy. Journalist CHRIS HEDGES recently stated that the “military and police forces in the u.s. function as armies of occupation” stabilizing corporate colonialism. despite the five officers being black, they derive their agency by ensuring the social system functions for a business-as-usual economics that benefits the few. within capitalism, the “representationalist” aspect of identity politics, to quote the late GLEN FORD, hasn’t saved us from losing forty percent of our wealth since 2008, nor from being forty percent of the nation’s homeless while accounting for only fourteen percent of the population.
at a press conference in memphis, police officials said, “…”
despite protests across nigeria over police brutality, police and hired thugs continued to kill PROTESTORS. during the october 2020 protests in lagos at the lekki toll gate, soldiers attempted to restore order. order in nigeria includes maintaining control over crude petroleum – a crucial global resource and the nation’s largest export; one percent of the population owns eighty percent of the nation’s oil wealth. despite PROTESTORS waving the nigerian flag and singing the national anthem, soldiers stormed and shot at them. the military killed at least forty-eight PEOPLE and another ninety-six CORPSES were later found.
at a news conference in lagos, authorities promised, “…”
THE MUSIC PLAYING, AUNTIE STOOD IN HER DINING ROOM, RAISED THE SCOTCH AND COKE TO HER LIPS, AND TOOK A SIP. HER LIPSTICK LEFT A RED STAIN ON THE GLASS. SHE POINTED TO HER FOOD PREPARED MEMPHIS STYLE AND SAID, “YES, DAVID LOVED MY COOKING.” MY GRANDMOTHER, SISTER TO BOTH AUNT TILLIE AND THEIR DISAPPERARED BROTHER, WILEY BENTON, SMILED. I REALIZE NOW THAT MY AUNT COOKED NOT JUST FOR THE LIVING, BUT FOR THOSE WHO HAD PASSED AWAY.
MAKING WAY FOR US TO EAT, AUNTIE WALKED TO THE KITCHEN AND RETURNED WITH PLATES SHE THEN PUT ON THE TABLE. THERE WERE DISHES FOR EVERYONE AND A FEW PLATES THAT WOULD PASS THE NIGHT EMPTY. NOTICING HER SONG HAD REACHED ITS END, MY AUNT BENT OVER THE WOODEN RECORD PLAYER, PICKED UP THE NEEDLE, AND PLACED IT BACK AT THE BEGINNIG OF DINAH WASHINGTON’S SONG.
WITH HORNS AND BASS PROPELLING HER FORWARD, DINAH VOCALIZED, “FROM EVERY SINGLE WINDOW, I SEE YOUR FACE. BUT WHEN I REACH THAT WINDOW, THERE’S
The accounts of police brutality directed at Tyre Nichols are from:
“Woke Imperialism” by Chris Hedges in The Chris Hedges Report” (San Francisco: Substack, Feb 5, 2023)
“We’re not done: end of Scorpion Unit after Tyre Nichols death is first step, protestors say” by Edwin Rios in The Guardian (New York: Jan 29, 2023)
“Colonial-Capitalist Fascism and its Deadly Outcome: The State Murder of Tortuguita in Atlanta and Tyre Nichols in Memphis Are Inextricably Linked” by Black Alliance for Peace Atlanta in Black Agenda Report (USA: Feb 1 2023)
The accounts of police brutality in Nigeria are from “The massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate” by Femi Falana SAN in The Guardian Nigeria (Lagos: Nov 24 2021)
The statistic on Nigeria’s oil wealth is from “Imperialism, dependence, development: Legacies of colonialism in Africa” by Lee Wengraf in International Socialist Review (Chicago: Center for Economic Research and Social Change, Issue 103, Winter 2016-17)