Video shows police brutality, not racism, is at the heart of skateboarder Tyre Nichols beating death in Memphis.
In a 55-page report, the DOJ seeks legal ways to solve the national disconnect between law enforcement and millions of citizens.
A brutal, graphic video of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols being beaten to death by five Black police officers in Memphis is creating a cacophony of questions and investigations that once again is rocking the nation. Mr. Nichols was pulled over while driving and was beaten so viciously that he died three days later from his injuries.
Mr. Nichols was unarmed. The heartbreaking video shares the shattering cries of the victim as he calls for his mother, while the officers pummeled him again and again.
All five Memphis police officers involved were fired after the incident and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and other charges.
Besides the police officers’ body cameras that taped the incident, a nearby video camera captured the police harming Mr. Nichols with great force.
As evidence goes, having the murder caught on video is powerful and is expected by authorities to lead to a conviction of the officers. Yet, the horrifying videos do not show the actual time of the police stop, nor any wrongdoing by Mr. Nichols.
Supposedly, the absence of video showing Mr. Nichols driving erratically or doing anything illegal is not available because one of the five officers had a new police car that did not have dashboard cameras.
What the videos do show are the officers attacking the unarmed, slight man and then verbally saying on video that he was trying to grab for one of their guns, which is not shown or proven in any recording.
After their violent beating of Mr. Nichols, with recordings active, the officers spoke on video, saying Mr. Nichols slurred his words and tried to hit one of the officers when he “took a swing” at him.
Legally, expect prosecutors to denounce these statements as a setup by the police officers, who were trying to raise a reasonable doubt about their guilt as to why they so grievously harmed the young man.
An attorney for one of the policemen charged in the incident said that the videos “produced as many questions as they have answers.”
What is crystal clear, however, and not at all in question, is that five armed policemen beat one unarmed civilian and killed him, for no apparent reason to be seen or heard at the time.
Another horrific aspect of the event is that the ambulance called to treat Mr. Nichols took 22 excruciating minutes to arrive, only after the five police officers said he was in custody. Prior to the arrival of the ambulance, two medics were on the scene, examining the collapsed, handcuffed, bloody victim as he groaned loudly from his injuries.
Reaction to the shocking video of the killing was swift and loud. From Memphis to almost every major city in the nation, protestors took up chants and signs, demanding justice and something more: a total overhaul of the US police system.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation quickly launched an investigation into the actions of the five police officers that led to their charges and is still ongoing. Furthermore, the US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee said they are conducting a criminal probe.
A third investigation was announced by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who said the police officers did not have “basic humanity” and that a number of other police officers are being looked at for “department policy violations,” possibly regarding the well-known “blue wall of silence” where police officers are loyal to one another keep to a code of silence.
Yet another investigation is ongoing by the Sheriff’s Department in Shelby County, which is located in Memphis.
In the 2020 George Floyd murder by convicted police officer Derek Chauvin, it is alleged that some officers of the Minneapolis police participated in the blue wall of science. Chauvin is serving 21 years in medium security prison on federal civil rights charges, after pleading guilty in an agreement with prosecutors.
With the powerful proliferation of police officers' body cameras, local security cameras and civilians’ cell phones, police charged with crimes across the US are dealing with evidence that cannot easily be disputed.
This case shines a powerful light on the reality that some police officers, including Black officers, are not unjustly and violently harming suspects or citizens because they are black. What happened to Mr. Nichols is not a case of racism, but instead, one of brutality among highly trained, organized police officers who work together day after day and are exposed to a culture of crime plus violence.
The solution to the national disconnect between law enforcement and citizens in the midst of continuous and horrific police violence is not known. Many Americans believe that defunding the police is an option to stem the senseless deaths of so many victims, almost all black, of police. Would community policing help foster a sense of trust within neighborhoods that could lead to less death by police? Are there psychological or even pharmaceutical treatments to help officers across the US as they deal with violent crimes day after day, to help them remain calmer?
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (re-codified at 34 U.S.C. § 12601), allows the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review the “practices of law enforcement agencies that may be violating people's federal rights.” Furthermore, the DOJ can use the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, plus Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin by agencies receiving federal funds, to create improved laws to protect citizens.
In a 55-page police reform report covering the years 1994 to the present, the DOJ lays out facts and possible solutions to the dire relationship between the police and many citizens.
“The vast majority of men and women who police our communities do so with professionalism, respect, bravery, and integrity,” the document states. “But as we have seen around the country, when police departments engage in unconstitutional policing, their actions can severely undermine both community trust and public safety.”
Mr. Nichols, who did not live long enough to see any proposed reforms that may have saved his own life, was described by his brother Jamal Dupree as a kind person who didn’t have a “negative bone in his body” and was always “joyous.”
Mr. Nichol’s mother tearfully agreed.
“My son, he actually was a good boy,” said Mr. Nichols’ grieving mother, RowVaughn Wells. “My son loved me to death. That was how he felt. He had my name tattooed on his arm.”
Every Sunday, his mother Ms. Wells added, her son would go to “Shelby Farm” to skateboard, and at night “my son wanted to go look at the sunset and take pictures.”
Now, as his father Rodney Wells said, “All I know is that my son was a great, great kid. He didn’t deserve what he got. Now what he deserves is justice.”
But justice, despite video evidence and the prosecution of some police officers in numerous cases across decades of police violence, is not yet being served in the US.
Beyond legal convictions of bad-actor police officers, current law enforcement reforms do not do much more than place a bandaid on the American legal battle ensuing between the police and millions of American citizens.