Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter: An unarmed Black man dies after a videotaped beating by police. The officers involved are fired. After a thorough review of the evidence, criminal charges are swiftly filed against the offending officers. Investigation, accountability and charges. This is often the most Black citizens can hope for as the deaths continue. Nationwide, police have killed roughly three people per day consistently since 2020, according to academics and advocates for police reform who track such deaths.
Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter with police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, recorded in a video made public Friday night, is a glaring reminder that efforts to reform policing have failed to prevent more flashpoints in an intractable epidemic of brutality. Nearly 32 years ago, Rodney King’s savage beating by police in Los Angeles prompted heartfelt calls for change. They’ve been repeated in a ceaseless rhythm ever since, punctuated by the deaths of Amadou Diallo in New York, Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and so many others.
George Floyd’s murder
George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in 2020 was so agonizing to watch, it summoned a national reckoning that featured federal legislation proposed in his name and shows of solidarity by corporations and sports leagues. All fell short of the shift in law enforcement culture Black people in America have called for — a culture that promotes freedom from fear, trust in police and mutual respect.
“We need public safety, right? We need law enforcement to combat pervasive crime,” said Jason Turner, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. “Also, we don’t want the people who are sworn to protect and serve us brutalizing us for a simple traffic stop or any offence.” The five Black officers are now fired and charged with murder and other crimes in the Jan. 10 death of Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder, FedEx worker and father to a 4-year-old boy.
From police brass and the district attorney’s office to the White House, officials said Nichols’ killing points to a need for bolder reforms that go beyond simply diversifying the ranks, changing use-of-force rules and encouraging citizens to file complaints. “The world is watching us,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said. “If there is any silver lining to be drawn from this very dark cloud, it’s that perhaps this incident can open a broader conversation about the need for police reform.”
What President Biden said?
President Joe Biden joined national civil rights leaders in similar calls to action. “To deliver real change, we must have accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths, and we need to build lasting trust between law enforcement, the vast majority of whom wear the badge honourably, and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect,” the president said. But Memphis, whose 628,000 residents celebrate barbecue and blues music and lament being the place where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, has seen this before. The city took steps advocates called for in a “Reimagine Policing” initiative in 2021, and mirrored a set of policy changes reformers want all departments to implement immediately, known as “8 Can’t-Wait.”
(With inputs from AP)
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