We’ve had parents of young Black men tell us they’ve had “the talk,” offering advice if pulled over by police. Don’t argue. Don’t fight. Keep your hands where officers can see them. Don’t run.
Twenty-nine-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black father, skateboarder, an avid photographer of blazing sunsets over the Mississippi River, followed basic instructions from “the talk,” except when running away was a desperate attempt to save himself. At that traffic stop that turned into a savage and deadly beating, not one of the Memphis Police Department officers, all Black, at the scene tried to bring down the temperature and protect – yes, protect Nichols. That’s what Nichols needed. Protection from a mob’s rage.
So much comes from those videos. The horror, disgust and casual cruelty of the police officers who gave Nichols 71 commands in 13 minutes. You’re “really doing a lot right now,” Nichols said, as officers shouted directions and pulled his arms, with one officer threatening to break his hands.
We don’t need a court of law to say these police officers were bad seeds. Monsters, even. Mean and incompetent from the start, with the first officer filmed charged up and ready for assault as a sport.
Nichols’ death was a “failing of basic humanity,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said. For her part, Davis’ actions were swift. The five were fired within two weeks; charged with second-degree murder and videos released within three weeks; and SCORPION or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, disbanded soon afterward. We’re waiting on news of the sixth white officer on administrative leave.
The days are over of police departments holding onto videos, conducting investigations for six months or longer or putting alleged criminals – police officers – on extended leave. Citizens won’t stand for it.
In 2020, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was a flash point. Now, Nichols’ death begins the trajectory in how police brutality will be investigated.
Davis was on the fast track because she had to be. All information had to be released as soon as humanly possible. Any efforts to keep details under wraps would be untenable. With cameras on street poles, in cellphones and on bodycams, the truth comes out sooner these days.
We must say, Davis’ taking-care-of-business attitude likely prevented deaths around the country with demonstrators staying relatively calm. She indirectly helped keep the peace. We’re thankful for that.
Yet, she was the supervisor of other supervisors over SCORPION. Someone must have known who these men were. Someone trained them. Being so bold in their brutality is evidence of a sick work culture, tolerating this behavior. One question is whether Davis was also complicit.
Something else. Nichols’ family was offered a private viewing of the videos before they were made public. Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, only made it through the first minute, family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said.
Other agencies are doing the same thing. It’s not uncommon for family members to first refuse to see videos all the way through. It’s the reason some family members are later surprised about details in police reports or from videos when the court date arrives. We have to be conscious of this.
We hope that Nichols’ wrenching death leads to reform, improved standards and trainings for law enforcement. Here’s what we want. Only police academy candidates with cool heads – willing to learn skills to defuse situations – need apply. They must know that clear, precise, reasonable commands are critical when engaging with the public.
And genuine compassion. Those missing that chip shouldn’t be accepted within police culture or its ranks.
Because Tyre Nichols was just a man trying to get home.