Opinion: Why police reform utterly failed to protect Tire Nichols

Editor’s note: Sonia Pruitt is a retired Montgomery County, Maryland police captain. She is the founder of The Black Police Experience, which promotes education at the intersection of law enforcement and the black community. She is also a professor of criminal justice at Howard University in Washington, DC, and at Montgomery College in Maryland. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.


The conduct of the Memphis police officers who have been charged with beating Tire Nichols to death is shocking in its brutality and heartbreaking in revealing how little the needle of police reform has moved in decades.

On January 7, officers pulled Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, from his car during a traffic stop and forced him to the ground, shouting threats before spraying him in the face with pepper spray. Questions remain as to why Nichols was arrested, with Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn ‘CJ’ Davis saying they were unable to confirm claims he was driving recklessly .

Nichols, who struggled to get to his feet and fled, was found minutes later. Police body camera and surveillance footage released Friday showed officers hitting Nichols with a baton, kicking him in the head and hitting him repeatedly before backing him up against a police cruiser.

The officers then moved on, with no one coming to their aid in the critical minutes following the beating. It took more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene, and Nichols, who suffered “profuse bleeding from a severe beating”, according to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by his family’s lawyers. , died three days later.

Based on my 28 years of experience as a former police officer and captain, it was clear to me that the officers lacked supervision, showed little professional maturity and escalated a situation into what would become a deadly encounter. out of gross negligence and total disregard for human life.

The damage is even more traumatic for the black community, given that the five officers charged with murder are all black. Members of the black community often expect black officers to be their vanguard.

To see black officers embracing brutality and aligning themselves with a policing subculture that calls for loyalty to even the most heinous police behaviors — like beating up subjects who are fleeing the police — is beyond devastating, especially since modern policing in this country can be traced back to slave patrols, and abuses within the criminal justice system continue to lead to over-surveillance and death of black people.

After Nichols’ death, the union representing officers posted a statement on Facebook that read, “The Memphis Police Association would like to, once again, extend its condolences to the family of Mr. Tire Nichols. The Memphis Police Association is committed to the administration of justice and NEVER tolerates the mistreatment of ANY citizen or ANY abuse of power.

The current position of the association is unusual. He didn’t outright defend the arrested police officers or say they were simply doing a tough job that required them to make split-second decisions – answers we expect from the police unions that so often help protect police officers. accused of liability misconduct.

The public noted the swift action taken against the five officers, all members of a specialized crime-fighting unit known as the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION). Within two weeks, all five were fired. Criminal charges were filed and body-worn camera video was released within three weeks. These actions were appropriate. As Ben Crump, the attorney representing Nichols’ family, said at a press conference on Friday, we now know that prompt transparency and accountability are indeed possible in death cases involving police officers, and the Memphis affair is a model.

Many have noted that the police assault on Nichols is reminiscent of that of Rodney King, a black man whose beatings at the hands of Los Angeles police officers in 1991 were captured on video. But Nichols’ beating is actually much worse as it shows that after nearly 32 years the needle of police reform has barely moved and seemingly minor traffic violations continue to result in the deaths of black and other minority men and women in clashes with police.

Efforts to push for police reform in the wake of the 2020 death of George Floyd have largely been replaced by calls to address fears of rising crime, in part by hiring more police . Last year, President Joe Biden proposed funding 100,000 new police officers as part of his plan for a safer America and the 2023 omnibus appropriations bill includes $324 million in funding to hire more police officers. .

However, I know from experience that crime prevention is about building trust between the police and the community they serve, rather than feeding a broken system with more police. There can be no trust when there is oversurveillance of disadvantaged communities with law enforcement units such as the SCORPION unit, which were formed to protect communities – not to terrorize them. (On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department announced that it would permanently disband its SCORPION unit.)

The federal policing bill that bears the name of George Floyd failed to pass the Senate and efforts to end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from being held personally responsible for the violation of a person’s rights, did not make it to Congress.

States and local jurisdictions have attempted to address police misconduct through new policies and legislation. Law enforcement has held training time and time again and revised its policy time and time again, yet we still have too many unnecessary deaths under the batons, feet, hands, fists and guns of the police.

These deaths are preventable, but training or a patchwork of local policies will not suffice. Transformation will look like a commitment to change through federal legislation that addresses the use of no-knock warrants, the duty to intervene, the use of excessive force and other issues. police dangerous; the placing of powerful agents of political change in power through the vote; and a commitment by the criminal “justice” system to hold corrupt police officers accountable for their actions through administrative and criminal prosecution.

The proof of success will come when we will never again hear the plaintive cries of a black man calling for his mother while being bullied.

This article has been edited to accurately reflect the author’s experience; she has 28 years of combined law enforcement experience, not just as a captain.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button