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Saturday June 15th

The impact of the death of Tyre Nichols on the push for police reform

<p><em>The details and released footage of the Tyre Nichols incident have sparked conversations across the United States about responses of potential police reform (Photo courtesy of Flickr/“</em><a href="" target=""><em>IMG_6119</em></a><em>” by Becker1999. January 30, 2023). </em></p>

The details and released footage of the Tyre Nichols incident have sparked conversations across the United States about responses of potential police reform (Photo courtesy of Flickr/“IMG_6119” by Becker1999. January 30, 2023). 

By Ben Gallanter

Signal Contributor

Millions of Americans have watched the recently-released police body camera videos of Tyre Nichols laying in the street in handcuffs after being beaten by police officers in dread, appall and disbelief. The shocking footage has stirred up controversy across the United States and has drawn widespread attention back to a contested subject that is considered continuously, immensely prevalent for discussion in today’s society: police reform.

Many Americans are considering the actions shown in the videos of the incident involving Tyre Nichols and Memphis police officers to be acts of police brutality, leading to nationwide calls to improve flaws in the systems and operations of current policing. 

On Jan. 7, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was pulled over by officers of the Memphis Police Department for a traffic stop for alleged reckless driving, according to ABC News.

It is alleged that, after Nichols was approached by the police officers, he fled on foot following their attempted use of a stun gun on him and was then re-captured by the officers after a short pursuit. 

The footage shows multiple police officers standing over Nichols after he was apprehended. The videos then display the police officers beating and pepper spraying Nichols. 

Following the beating, the footage depicts Nichols being pulled into the street by the officers and leaned against a nearby vehicle. Nichols appears to lean against the vehicle for an alleged time period of approximately 20 minutes before being eventually provided medical aid by the officers and later EMTs. According to NPR, Nichols was then taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital in Memphis in critical condition. Nichols died three days after the incident on Jan. 10. According to CNN, the cause of death was determined to be due to “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” 

According to ABC News, the Memphis Police Department announced on Jan. 20 that they had fired five Black police officers after an investigation into the incident. The five police officers who were fired were indicted by a grand jury, charged with second-degree murder, and taken into police custody on Jan. 26. On Jan. 27, three police body camera videos and a city camera video of the incident were released by Memphis officials, causing primarily peaceful protests to be held in various American cities. According to NBC News, another Memphis police officer and multiple members of the Memphis Fire Department have been fired since the investigation into the incident began for accused wrongdoings, with further possible discipline forthcoming.

The details and released footage of the Tyre Nichols incident have sparked conversations across the United States about responses of potential police reform. 

According to Poynter, there have been specific efforts of possible police reform that have gained attention and different opinions, such as increasing data collection of alleged police misconduct, changing police use-of-force standards and adding alternative first-responders in specific crisis situations. The idea of increased data collection is seen as a useful tool to help search for potentially dangerous officers through online databases. Potential changes in use-of-force standards and the addition of alternative first-responders are viewed as methods to reduce the chances of similar tragedies in the future.  

“These efforts are steps in the right direction,” said Dr. Michael B. Mitchell, a professor of African American studies and criminology. “In the state of New Jersey, we now have arguably the most comprehensive statewide police use-of-force database, but there are still gaps. Any resident with internet access can view the database and search the number of use-of-force incidents by a given officer within a local department, or in some cases, see the race of the officer, but contextual data-detailed information about the nature of the incident is not universal.” 

Other ideas for police reform have been noted in relation to how change can be made in the operations of policing.

“When recruiting police officers, they should do implicit-bias training and teach them more about the presence of racism and xenophobia,” said Wangare Njuguna, a junior women’s, gender and sexuality studies and public health double major. “They should acknowledge that some marginalized groups face these incidents of police brutality more than others.”

Despite the ideas for police reform, there are a number of complications in implementing reform. According to Mitchell, policing in the U.S. varies between locations depending on its demographics, making it important to consider police reform at the local level. Another issue involves funding. 

“The other big obstacle to many reforms, such as increased training and more or different first responders, is that these reforms require funding,” said Dr. Tao Dumas, professor of political science. “This requires states to put money into training and hiring employees and also means that states will need to divert funds from other spending initiatives.”

According to Mitchell, the evident difference in the Tyre Nichols incident from other instances of police brutality is the race of the police officers during the traffic stop footage that led to Nichols’ death. Mitchell noted how the actions to the Black officers in the footage was dissimilar to past images and incidents involving white officers and Black civilians.

“No, it does not matter the race of the officer when excessive, unwarranted force is used against any human being,” Mitchell said. “But the swift legal action taken towards the five Black Memphis police officers must also be reciprocated in cases involving white officers who use unjustifiable deadly force against Black individuals and other people of color.”

Only time will tell if reforms toward current policing are implemented. 

“It’s the job of a police officer to handle the suspect, not to beat them up,” said Njuguna. “I mean, why are you using violence immediately? There’s an imbalance of power already. There needs to be a better set of guidelines to hopefully handle these types of situations in the future.”


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