Tyre Nichols’ killing in Memphis matched many of the same characteristics as the long list of high-profile black males who died at the hands of American police: a traffic stop that descended into violence, an up-in-arms community, and the critical release of video footage.
But there was another special thing about this situation. Currently accused of his murder are five black police officers.
We don’t yet know how the officers’ race will affect demonstrators on the streets or any potential jury in a courtroom. The race of the implicated police, however, is significantly less significant than the race of the victim, according to experts, activists, and lawyers who spoke with USA TODAY. According to them, black people are at risk regardless of an officer’s ethnicity due to a “historically prejudiced culture of the police.”
The faculty director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice and a law professor, Ralph Richard Banks, stated that “black people and black police officers can bring with them some of the same understandings or perceptions about black people as white police officers could.” There isn’t anything that can immunize them.
Even before Memphis police released the gruesome video evidence from January 7 that made national headlines, Nichols’ death was widely reported. Both at a red light and again following a chase into a nearby neighborhood, it depicts police attempting to apprehend Nichols. Nichols was assaulted by police with punches, kicks, pepper spray, a Taser, and a baton in total. The moment an officer strikes Nichols, he calls out for his mother. He then slumps to the floor several times, and they support him.
The police reported that Nichols was critically ill when he was hospitalized, and he passed just three days later. Attorneys for the Nichols family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement that preliminary results of an independent autopsy revealed Nichols “suffered substantial bleeding caused by a brutal beating.”
Following their dismissal last week, all five policemen were indicted on charges of second-degree murder and other offenses related to Nichols’ passing.
Tyre Nichols police officers are black, and they claim that “the suspect’s color mattered most.”
In the past, black victims of police brutality and murder have been accused of being killed. In the 2015 detention and subsequent death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, three of the six Baltimore Police officers accused are black.
Days of rioting and looting were started by Gray’s death, which also prompted the US Justice Department to launch investigations. In that case, the charges against all six cops were subsequently withdrawn, or they were all found not guilty.
Malcolm Ruff, a trial attorney with Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, the Baltimore law firm that represented Gray’s family in civil lawsuits, stated that “if you go into the neighborhoods of Baltimore right now and ask whether the race of corrupt or unreliable police officers matters, they would say not.”
He declared that the suspect’s race was the most important factor. “The culture of policing that has historically been biased killed [Nichols],”
One obvious difference, according to Ruff, was how quickly the five policemen involved in Nichols’ arrest were dismissed and charged with grave offenses, as opposed to white officers in earlier police-related shootings who would have been suspended with pay while investigations were ongoing.
He observed that when the officers are black, “it seems there is always rapid action.” That is pretty revealing.
The chief of police in Memphis minimized racial factors
Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, the chief of the Memphis Police Department, referred to the officers’ behavior as “incomprehensible” and “unconscionable,” although he downplayed the significance of race in the incident given that all five of the policemen were black.
She told CNN that it “takes off the table that challenges and problems in law enforcement [are] about race.” “Not really. It is about responsibility, accountability, and the obligation to safeguard our neighborhood. We all share that obligation, as this video will demonstrate, regardless of who is wearing the uniform. As a result, racing is eliminated. But it does seem to me to suggest that prejudice might also have a role in how we interact with the community.”
“Deeply regrettable,” said Rashad Robinson, head of the online racial justice group Color of Change, of Davis’ comments. He asserted that regardless of the officers’ race, the Nichols event highlights systematic racial biases in police networks that must be eradicated.
This shows that we do indeed have a serious issue that is more complex than a black-and-white issue, he continued, and that issue is one of color. It has to do with the architecture and style of policing in this nation, which convey a message every single day.
Campaigners argue that more black officers will not be enough to end institutional racism.
Although police forces have become more diverse and have hired more black officers, Robinson claimed that the systemic adjustments required to end racial policing have not been implemented.
According to Hans Menos of the California-based Center for Policing Equity, one of the issues that need to be carefully looked into is the specialized unit to which some of the Memphis police officers belonged, the so-called SCORPION team, which may have been acting erratically and targeting communities of color. Jim Strickland, mayor of Memphis, said on Friday that the unit has been decommissioned.
“We don’t need to know the race of the cops to know we have five officers operating without supervision in a community and being asked to file charges,” he explained. What is gradually becoming apparent is this:
Professor at UCLA School of Law and author of the soon-to-be-released book “Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable,” Joanna Schwartz, claims that the inclusion of black cops removes race from the discussion but ignores the differences in who suffers from police violence.
In research after research, it has been discovered that black people are more likely to be stopped, searched, assaulted, and killed. “Because the police are black, I don’t think you can say that this is not a racial issue,” she added. “Nothing in our nation can be separated from racial issues.” This is not either.