Tyre Nichols: A Case Of Cold-Blooded Black-On-Black Police Murder?

MPD announced last Friday, Jan. 20, that the five officers involved had been fired
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Photo: YouTube

On Jan. 7, officers with the Memphis, TN Police Department (MPD) pulled 29-year-old Tyre Nichols over for "reckless driving." After what officers called a "confrontation," Nichols attempted to run away; officers maintain that there was a second "confrontation" prior to his arrest.

At the moment we do not know the nature of these "confrontations," but we do know their outcome: Tyre Nichols was subsequently taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died of his injuries on Jan. 10. MPD announced last Friday, Jan. 20, that the five officers involved had been fired; Nichols' family has since viewed their bodycam footage and agreed to allow the department up to two more weeks to release it publicly.

Such videos are crucial to holding police accountable when they do egregious harm, but CPE remains mindful that they also re-traumatize those closest to the person whose life was taken, along with that person's broader community. Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, was unequivocal: “What I saw in the video today was horrific. No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.” We stand with Tyre Nichols' family and loved ones, forced to relive the horrors of those three days and, soon, to grapple with the public responses to video evidence of the brutality that ultimately killed him.

CPE acknowledges the appropriate speed with which Chief of Police Cerleyn “CJ” Davis terminated the officers' employment with MPD, and the decision of the FBI's Memphis Field Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the MPD officers involved. Only with due diligence, thoroughness, and true transparency will those responsible be held to account for these terrible events.

We wish also to directly address the fact that everyone involved in this ghastly story–victim, officers, and police chief–is Black. Some will insist that this fact absolves MPD and American policing more broadly of systemic racism, but when these arguments inevitably surface, we must not be distracted. CPE's concern has never been with the hearts and minds of individual officers or chiefs. We engage in rigorous data science to help reduce structural factors at the root of racially disparate policing outcomes, toward the goal of achieving safe communities, racial justice, and Black liberation.

Traffic stops are one of the most frequent points of contact between police and the public. Our work has demonstrated unequivocally that Black people are pulled over, searched, and violently attacked at rates entirely disproportionate to their numbers in U.S. society.

This is a result of law enforcement policies, procedures, and culture that are shaped by White supremacy. Any officer working in such a system risks finding themselves engaged in behavior that is racist in nature, even if they do not, personally, hold racist beliefs or are themselves, Black. While we support the firing of the five officers whose brutality killed Tyre Nichols and call for a rigorous investigation, we will continue to shine a light on the racist systems, structures, and culture that stand behind the horrific events of Jan. 7.

We send our heartfelt condolences to all who mourn Tyre Nichols, and our wishes for peace and healing. CPE remains wholly committed to advancing the work of racial equity, toward a future in which such losses will no longer have to be endured.

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