As family and loved ones gather Wednesday in Memphis to celebrate the life of Tyre Nichols, a Black man killed by Memphis police, mental health experts are cautioning against watching and posting the gruesome video circulating around social media of his fatal beating. Instead, they are offering ways to reflect on his life as a healthy alternative.
“You don’t have to watch the video, you don’t have to post the video,” Allissa Torres, the director of mental health equity at the nonprofit Mental Health America, told Yahoo News.
“It’s helpful to understand who Tire Nichols was, and it’s important to post pictures if you want to. But ultimately, posting that video can be incredibly traumatic and is just a continued perpetuation of Black trauma, and that is never OK to put out there. People become desensitized to that,” she said.
On Friday evening, the city of Memphis released video of police officers physically and verbally assaulting Nichols after a Jan. 7 traffic stops. In the netting of police bodycams and surveillance footage, the 29-year-old Nichols calls out for his mother as the abuse continues. He died on Jan. 10.
Prior to the release of the video, Row Vaughn Wells, Nichols’s mother, warned about its graphic nature as cities across the country prepared for protests following its release.
“I’ve never seen the video,” she said at a press conference on Friday. “But from what I’ve heard, it’s very horrific, and if any of you have children, please, don’t let them see it.”
Although much of the media played those worst moments of Nichols’s life on repeat, experts warn that consuming videos can perpetuate trauma. For Black people in particular, their social media feeds can be peppered with violent images of victims who look like them or their family members.
“This is a collective trauma that’s been happening for centuries, frankly,” Torres said. “Black men deserve to grow old, and they deserve to live long, fulfilling lives without fear of being killed. Unfortunately, what we continue to see are these modern-day lynchings. And to have that so visible on your social media is incredibly traumatic, especially for Black individuals.”
“I encourage people to know themselves, their own vulnerability to trauma and what will retraumatize them,” Dr. Ken Duckworth, the chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), told Yahoo News. “Think about their social media as a diet or an input as opposed to just a constant.”
Nichols’s parents have publicly reflected on the life of their son in anecdotes of warm memories, at moments pivoting away from his final days of hardship.
“I know every mother says they had a good son and everybody’s son is good, but my son, he was actually a good boy,” Wells said at a Jan. 23 press conferences. “He had my name tattooed on his arm, and that made me proud, because most kids don’t put their mom’s name, but he did. On a Saturday, my son would wake up, he’d go to Shelby Farms [Park] because he liked skateboarding. That was his passion. He’s been skating since he was 6 years old. That day, when he left around 3 o’clock, he was going to Shelby Farms to watch the sunset and take pictures.”
As the video made its rounds across social media and news outlets, some joined his family, turning their attention away from watching and sharing the video, instead choosing to reflect on Nichols’s humanity as a son, father, friend, avid skateboarder, photographer and man who loved sunsets.
“Tyre was a sweetheart,” his stepfather, Rodney Wells, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid the day the video was released. “He had a very infectious personality. … He was the kind of guy who when you came in the door, you couldn’t walk past him without getting a hug. If you get past him, he’s going to make sure that you come back and give him a hug. He’s just that kind of person. Everybody adored him.”
Nichols’s family also provided a video to share to celebrate his life. It showed the avid skateboarder gliding and doing tricks on his skateboards, as he captured his love for sunlight and sunsets in the background.
“Posting pictures of Tire when he was alive before the incredibly unfortunate tragedy can be helpful,” Torres said. “Going to vigils can be helpful if that is something that happens near you. You can write a blog, you can just write your feelings in an Instagram caption. Going to your community, talking with your family, talking with your friends, talking with your church, your therapist, your counselor, whoever that is who you feel supported by. It’s important to go towards those who support when you have feelings elicited by this kind of situation coming up.”
Mental health experts add that channeling collective grief into action is also a great way to reflect on Nichols’s life.
“I think what you want is to be part of feeling like you’re moving the field forward, the society forward,” Duckworth said. “If you’re not engaged in doing something about it, the risk of retraumatizing yourself is just really high. If you can find a way to join with some kind of participation, I think that helps us deal with helplessness. What you hope for is that people choose action over being frozen or retraumatized.”
The family has started a GoFundMe, which has almost reached its goal of $1.5 million. Nichols’s mother said those funds will in part go toward creating a memorial skate park for Nichols, “in honor of his love for skating and sunsets.”
“Obviously you can give to the GoFundMe to build his skate park in Memphis. That’ll stand as an enduring monument,” Duckworth said. “I think that’s important. I think contacting the NAACP, contacting NAMI, there are groups that want to do something. You can do a lot of good work volunteering to train police officers about what it’s like, what the experience is like from your end.”
the NAMI HelpLine is available Monday to Friday, 10 am to 10 pm ET at 800-950-6264, text “HelpLine” to 62640, online chat, or email [email protected]. It’s a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people with a mental health condition or concerns, family members, loved ones and the public. The NAMI HelpLine is staffed by highly trained volunteers working to answer questions, offer support and provide practical next steps.