Black Long Island moms Renita Francois and Malika Elwin on Saturday talk about how they handled Tyre Nichols' police beating death with their children and how they reacted to hearing Nichols calling out to his mom as he was being beaten. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Renita Francois was watching the news coverage Saturday of the police beating of Tyre Nichols when her daughter came in and asked about it.

Cydney is 8 and it wasn't the first time she'd seen police brutality against a Black person on TV, so the Valley Stream mother was straight with her.

"The truth is this person who happens to be Black was stopped by police officers who happened to be Black, and instead of treating him with basic humanity, he was beaten like an animal and he ultimately died," Francois, 39, said she told the girl.

Cydney's response, she said: "That's bad. It was wrong." 

Parents across Long Island are struggling to define Nichols' tragic death to their children, and, for many mothers, the most heart-wrenching moment came when they watched Nichols crying out for his mother with full lung power. 

Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was on his way home on Jan. 7 when Memphis police pulled him over. He was near the home he shared with his mother and stepfather when he was beaten by the five officers. He died three days later at a hospital, and the officers have since been charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.

"I think it should be incredibly heart-wrenching for any mom, not just Black moms," Francois said. She also watched Nichols' mother speak about not being able to help her son. "I don't know anyone who could live with that kind of anguish."

Watched video a dozen times

Malika Elwin, a mother of a 7-year-old girl, said she told herself for days that she wouldn't watch the video, but then viewed it more than a dozen times, to the point of tears.

"I keep going back to the video. I don't know why I keep inflicting trauma on myself," said Elwin, of Elmont. "As a Black mother, it's just a reminder that in the Black community we continue to have conversations with our sons, daughters, brothers and family members about the fear of police, and how to stay safe outside our home."

Elwin said she's held off speaking about Nichols' death with her daughter, Parker, and she fears that years from now, when the time comes to have such a talk, the situation won't be much better. She recalled the police beating of Rodney King in 1991, some 32 years ago.

"It hasn't gotten better," Elwin said. "I wasn't shocked that the police officers were Black. In policing there's systematic racism."

Elwin and Francois are co-presidents of the Mocha Moms of Long Island, an advocacy and support group for mothers of color, and the group discussed the incident at an event in Northport on Saturday afternoon. Elwin said she's been spending hours watching the discussion on Twitter, which she said is "full of sadness." But she said there was no easy answer to how to stop such incidents. 

"The fact that this was over a traffic stop is ridiculous," said Elwin, an attorney. She noted that Nichols was stopped by officers in a unit the police call the "Scorpion" squad. "There's violence behind the name."

Too painful to watch video

Neither was she encouraged by how quickly charges were brought against the police officers, saying, "In that video there's very little you can defend. … Their hands were tied."

Although Elwin does not support defunding the police, she would like to see a redistribution of resources that "help communities produce well-rounded, productive members of society."

For Alexa Palacios-Pierre, a mother with twin toddlers, the Nichols video was just too painful to watch, so she hasn't. Her twins, Luc and Ella, are 17 months old.

"As a new mother of a little Black boy and a little Black girl, I chose not to watch it," said Palacios-Pierre, of Massapequa Park. "Instead, I chose to celebrate the life of Tyre Nichols by lifting up him and his family with prayer. And I contributed to their GoFundMe page."

She reflected on the moments when Nichols called out for his mother.

"It added insult to injury," she said. Then, thinking on her concerns for the future and her own children, she said: "It's an anxiety that takes your mind to a really bad place."

She added that her fears of police brutality transcend race and color.

"It could happen to anybody," she said.

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