On a late January evening, Tyre Nichols was pulled over just minutes from his Memphis home. According to officers, he was maneuvering in a reckless manner. What should have been a quick stop turned into the worst abuse of power many of us have witnessed.
The officers passionately beat Nichols. They beat him in a way where you’d think he was fighting back. Yeah, an unsuccessful fight for his life. He wailed for his mother to no response, much like a hopeless child. Nichols can be seen rolling and crawling after being propped against a squad car.
Surveillance footage documents the approximately 70-minute encounter: the stop, the beating and the generally unconcerned aftermath. Officers gathered around Nichols’ collapsed and ailing body — — immense inaction followed. They engaged in braggadocious banter, “I was hitting him with haymakers, dawg.”
About 40 minutes passed between Nichols’s assault and his ambulance departure to tend to his injuries. He would succumb to his injuries two days later on Jan. 10.
I write this nearly a month later while evidence and context are still emerging. The reality of what happened has become much worse. Nichols was hardly insubordinate until the point he feared for his life. By then, it was too late. The bludgeoning force used to effectively kill Nichols was far beyond excessive and uncalled for. That force, that synchronization in the moment to restrain Nichols beyond reason, the kicks intended to halt any insignificant movement and the impossible commands shouted were murderous. It was sinister. It was a heartbreakingly evil interaction where a defenseless (in every sense of the word) individual was beaten to death.
The public is tired. Tired is a gross understatement. The protests that have followed are fed-up in nature. The fact of the matter is that people are growing numb. The breaking point was in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter movement. Or was it in 2014 when Eric Gardener infamously gasped, “I can’t breathe?” Or was it that same year in Ferguson where Michael Brown was gunned down? Or was it when Philando Castile was executed in front of his innocent 4-year-old daughter? Perhaps even the 1992 Rodney King riots where Los Angeles erupted following the violating officers’ acquittal. There is an awfully long, probably immemorial, reputation of policing figures abusing and leveraging authority in a way that too frequently results in harm. I get chills when those blue lights flicker on behind me, especially at night. I speak for millions of Black men.
2022 was one of the bloodiest years in recent memory, according to Mapping Police Violence. At least 1,176 people were killed by the police, with Black people being the most likely. There is too much disturbing rhetoric attributing Black people’s behavior as the reason we are at risk for police slaughter. This is not the time for that. Frankly, this isn’t the time for any debate. To anybody who thinks otherwise, re-evaluate your humanity.
Once again, we must explain why the police make us feel a certain way.
We ask, how are we supposed to act in these situations?
How can this possibly be avoided when history (and common sense) suggests any individual with authority is a threat to misuse it?
Body cam laws have been instituted. Procedure has been adjusted accordingly. Police have been held accountable from time to time. The problem still persists: How do you police the police? They are the first responders, and in situations like this, they control the narrative. You can point to media sentiments or posts on social networks to argue otherwise. Those are not courts of law. Those are not the popular opinions in Congress or city hall.
Here in Mississippi, 15-year-old Jaheim McMilliam was fatally shot in the head by police outside a Gulfport Dollar General in October. Since the incident, police have been slow and difficult during the investigation. The lack of transparency for months has likely given the Gulfport Police Department ample time to get its story together and deflect any charges handed down. As of now, there are many conflicting accounts of the shooting.
I bring this up to remind us that this can happen anywhere. In Nichols’ case, he was slain just steps away from his home.
Rest in peace Tyre Nichols.
Justice Rose is the opinion editor from Madison, Miss.