Police brutality has been at the forefront of US news for many years, and society is once again debating the best ways for the police to protect and serve in a just and equitable manner. On January 7, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers after he was pulled over for alleged reckless driving. Three days after the event, Nichols died in the hospital. Following Nichols’ death and the release of law enforcement body-cam footage of the incident, there has been outrage across the country. As many attempt to sort through their tangled feelings of confusion, grief and anger, it is important to first know the facts of the situation.
Who was Tyre Nichols and what happened in Memphis?
Tyre Nichols was a local son and father in Memphis. He had a close relationship with his mother, who has been outspoken since her son’s death, as well as with his 4-year-old son. Nichols worked at a FedEx facility and was on his way home from work when he was stopped by police due to alleged reckless driving. While the initial police reports state that Nichols was violent toward the officers and reached for one of their guns, body cam and street footage contradict this claim. The footage instead shows the police pulling Nichols out of his car and forcing him to the ground. Nichols initially ran from the police, and when they eventually caught up with him, they inflicted their fatal beating. The video is available to the public and shows graphic footage of the incident, including Nichols calling out for his mother. Nichols was transported to the hospital in critical condition and later died.
Impacts on the Memphis Police Department
Since the incident, there have been ramifications in the Memphis Police Department. The first charges were against the police officers who were directly involved in the encounter with Nichols, all of whom are Black. These five officers were fired on January 20 after an internal investigation revealed that they violated department policy through their misuse of force The officers were charged with two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression, and one count of aggravated assault. Another officer, Preston Hemphill, was recently fired for violating multiple department policies, including his use of a taser on Nichols during the initial interaction (he wasn’t present at the second interaction). The public believed Hemphill, a white man, was initially protected from the public view and termination. However, recently he was fired and investigations on officers involved with Tyre Nichol’s death continue. Additionally, the specialized police unit that these officers were a part of, called the Scorpion Unit and known for using heavy-handed tactics in high crime areas, has been disbanded. The Memphis Police Department made the decision and released an official statement saying, “…it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted.”
How a Country and a College Can Move Forward
Processing events in a country where police brutality has been at the forefront of social justice for many years is never easy. On Hope College’s campus, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is free and available to all students. Additionally, if you want to learn more about anti-racism and how you can make a positive impact, Hope’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion offers educational resources you can look into and access through their page on hope.edu. Lastly, the Black Student Union (BSU) meets in the Keppel House every Thursday from 7-10 p.m. BSU also has multiple upcoming events to celebrate Black History Month, including their annual Open Mic Night and Fashion Show on February 24 in the Kruizenga Museum. Whether you want to ask for help, seek out information or find a community on campus, there are resources at Hope College that can help you become a more educated, inclusive, and involved citizen.
Fueled by the release of the body-cam footage portraying the brutal beating in Memphis, people throughout the nation have been outraged. Through demonstrations in New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Baltimore, and many other cities, people continue to mourn the loss of Tyre Nichols and demand justice for him and his family. Investigations are ongoing and the case of Tyre Nichols is not yet closed. This event was one thread in a web of police brutality that has been spun for decades. As calls for justice ring out, many wonder what changes will occur in response to police brutality.
Hope College’s Black Student Union is in the Keppel House every Thursday from 7-10 PM.
(Photo credit: Hope College website)
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