Perspective: What happened to Tyre Nichols was not about race. It was about police brutality
It is past time for Congress to come together and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
After the events of the past few years, many municipalities heeded the call to hire more African American police officers to reflect and respond to the diverse needs of the community. African Americans believed that if we had more African American officers assigned to our communities, there would be less police brutality against us. Many police departments agreed with this sentiment and deployed African American officers to urban and diverse communities. In practice, this theory worked, until it didn’t.
It didn’t work for Tyre Nichols — a 29-year-old, son, sibling, father, skateboarder, photographer and FedEx employee, who died Jan. 10 after a brutal attack by five African American police officers.
It didn’t work for the city of Memphis.
It didn’t work for the five police officers, and it didn’t work for America.
The death of Tyre Nichols sent reverberating shocks throughout the African American community. We were stunned to learn that five African American officers were involved. At the top of our conversation is that so many of our own were responsible and no one attempted to stop them. When the video of Tyre’s death was released Friday, it provoked disgust, shame, anger, heartbreak, embarrassment and a deep sadness.
With every kick, punch and blow to Tyre, these police officers should have remembered the names and experiences of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the countless other Black men and women who have died at the hands of police officers — but they didn’t. With multiple cameras recording the beating on Castlegate Lane, one would think that a few officers would have discouraged the beating or attended to Tyre’s medical needs, but they didn’t. You would think they would care about the impact of their actions, but they didn’t.
At the NAACP’s National Convention in 2022, Chairman Leon W. Russell, in one of his most inspiring speeches, delivered a clarion call to cease Black-on-Black assaults and killings. There were no boundaries or parameters to this call to action, which meant that it extended to Black police officers as well.
According to news reports, Tyre was not a weapon-wielding assailant who posed a threat to the officers or to others. When he was pursued by Memphis police, he was running to a safe place — in this case, his home, like any African American who is terrified of police officers would.
Once he was detained, Tyre’s 140-pound frame sustained a brutal beating which included body blows with batons, punches to the head and kicks in the abdomen. He was tased and pepper-sprayed. To add insult to injury, 10 officers stood around talking while Tyre’s beaten and handcuffed body was slumped against a police car. Their gross neglect in not providing medical care to this young man is nothing short of contemptible. The beating that Tyre took was inexpressibly inhumane, barbaric and ruthless. It was a gross depiction of collective callousness and remorseless conduct.
What happened to Tyre Nichols is not about race. It is about the use of force and brutality by five police officers. Those who were supposed to be the protectors were the perpetrators. But we need to remember that the five African American police officers seen in that horrific video don’t represent all Black people just as they don’t represent all police officers.
This is the time for Congress to come together and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It has been sitting in Congress for nearly two years. The objective of the act is to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies.
Tyre Nichols was weaponless and defenseless. The five officers were lawless. The death was senseless. These officers must be held accountable for their actions in criminal and civil court. Americans must push for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act before there is another egregious assault on humanity.
May God bless the family of Tyre Nichols and use his death to heal our country.
The Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.