An ex-cop whose father died of extreme injuries in Memphis, Maryland, is a black person’s first encounter with an officer and a gunman
Traffic was at a standstill on Eagle Trace Drive, a normally quiet road with a plant-filled median, about a mile and a half from the site. Sirens wailed in the distance as the cars inched forward, and police vehicles with lights flashing nosed through.
Cheryl St. James, a nurse, stated she wouldn’t get home. “I want to get home. I can not believe that is happening in my neighborhood. It is frightening.
The project manager said he was leaving to get something to eat when he saw the police arrive. He was trying to get back to watching House of the Dragon. He said he walks on the Greenway but now might think twice about it.
She stated that there are too many victims of the mindless gun violence that is happening in our country. We have to wake up. I don’t want other mayors standing here at the podium with their hearts breaking because people in their community died.”
A retired Montgomery County, Maryland police captain is the subject of a new article. She founded The Black Police Experience, a group that helps to educate 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 on this commentary are hers alone. CNN has more opinion.
Crump said that the quick firing and arrests of the police officers and release of video should be a “blueprint” for how police brutality allegations are handled going forward. He was happy to see the Memphis Police Chief charging the officers within 20 days.
It is heartbreaking to see how the events unfolded. “I have a son and he’s in the picture,” said Hill, standing by a makeshift memorial to Nichols near the Memphis corner. “And Tyre, out of the officers on the scene, he was the calmest.”
The officers then milled around, with no one rendering aid in the critical minutes following the beating. It took an ambulance more than 20 minutes to arrive on the scene, and Nichols, who suffered “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by attorneys for his family, 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 eventually become a deadly encounter through gross negligence and a complete disregard for human life.
The damage is more pronounced for the Black community, because five of the officers charged with murder are all black. Members of the Black community think that Black officers should be their main point of contact.
The association has an unusual stance. It did not defend the arrested officers outright or say that they were just doing a difficult job that required them to make split-second decisions – responses we’ve come to expect from police unions that so often help shield officers accused of misconduct from accountability.
Efforts to push for police reform have largely been replaced with calls to address the fear of rising crime, partly through hiring more police officers. President Joe Biden proposed funding for 100,000 new police officers as part of his ‘Safer America Plan.’ He was not alone in wanting to hire more police officers.
I know from experience that crime prevention can be achieved through trusting the police with the community they serve rather than by adding more police officers. There can’t be trust in suppression units, such as the SCORPION unit which are designed to protect communities from over-policing. On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department announced it will permanently end the SCORPION unit.
According to a fact sheet on the legislation at the time, the measure would also allow “individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.”
Training or a patchwork of local policies won’t make up for the preventable deaths. It will look like dedication to change, through federal legislation that addresses the use of no-knock warrants, duty to intervene, use of excessive force, and other dangerous policing issues; the placement of strong political change-makers in office through voting and a commitment by the criminal justice system to hold
This article has been modified to accurately reflect the writer’s experience; she has 28 years of combined experience in law enforcement, not just as a captain.
Ben was on CNN where he said that if they didn’t use Nicholsons’ death to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed, they should be shamed.
The failure of the legislation was brought up in a statement by President Joe Biden, who was joined by chairs of both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
The caucus requested a meeting with Biden to push for police reform negotiations, according to the news release.
Gloria Sweet-Love, the Tennessee State Conference NAACP president, called on Congress to step up during a Sunday evening news conference in Memphis. You’re writing another black man’s obituary by failing to pass bills to stop police brutality. You have the blood of Black America on your hands. Stand up and do something.
The Road for Reforming Policing in the 2021 Legislature: Comments on the Second Anniversary of Floyd Biden’s Decay in Los Angeles
The legislation was first introduced in 2020 and again in 2021, and it is designed to stop police officers from skirting consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction.
It would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and it would overhaul qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say shields law enforcement from accountability.
The fact sheet also states that the legislation would “save lives by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants” and would mandate “deadly force be used only as a last resort.”
The deal that Booker and Scott were working on could not be made because of a bunch of complicated issues.
“It was clear at this negotiating table, in this moment, we were not making progress,” Booker told reporters in the spring of 2021. We were moving away from it in the past couple of weeks. The talks were stopped. But the work will continue.”
The second anniversary of Floyd’s death was when Biden signed an executive order to improve policing. It took several actions that can be applied to federal officers, including efforts to ban chokeholds, expand the use of body-worn cameras and restrict no-knock warrants, among other things.
But the president cannot mandate that local law enforcement adopt the measures in his order; the executive action lays out levers the federal government can use, such as federal grants and technical assistance, to incentivize local law enforcement to get on board
The road for police reform is more difficult now that House Republicans have placed their priorities elsewhere.
State officials have been initiating investigations into local police departments, recognizing that the federal government can’t take on every case nationwide.
Memphis Police Officers Fail Their Oath to Protect and Serve a Black-Man, Says the Suggestion of a Federal Law
Protesters again took to the streets over the weekend to decry police brutality, after the release of video depicting the beating of a man by Memphis police, and more gatherings are planned for Sunday.
Ben Crump told CNN on Sunday that all of the officers failed their oath. “They failed their oath to protect and serve. Look at that video: Was anybody trying to protect and serve Tyre Nichols?”
The protesters in New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland were part of a nationwide movement that demanded an end to abuses of authority.
When it is white police officers that commit crimes against citizens, the community needs to know, but we need to see it as well.
According to the federal lawsuit, five former officers of the Memphis Police Department are accused of attacking a young Black man three days prior to the fatal police encounter.
There has been no information about the training or recruitment of the five former police officers who are facing murder charges.
The attorney for one of the officers indicted said in a statement Friday night that he didn’t cross any lines during the confrontation.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland: Stop Putting lipstick on a pig, or if you don’t have a dog like that, please do something about it
Just weeks after it launched, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland declared: “The SCORPION unit has had a total of 566 arrests – 390 of them felony arrests. They found $103,000 in cash, 270 vehicles, and 253 weapons.
But disbanding the unit without giving officers new training would be “putting lipstick on a pig,” city council chair Martavius Jones told CNN Saturday.
Two Memphis Fire Department employees who were part of Nichols’ initial care were relieved of duty, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. And two deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have been put on leave pending an investigation.
A pair of Democratic state lawmakers said Saturday that they intend to file police reform legislation ahead of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Tuesday filing deadline.
The bills will seek to address mental health care for law enforcement officers, hiring, training, discipline practices and other topics, said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who represents a portion of Memphis and Shelby County.
While Democrats hold the minority with 24 representatives compared to the Republican majority of 99 representatives, Towns said this legislation is not partisan and should pass on both sides of the legislature.
You would have to watch the footage to understand what happened to that young man, and not want to do something about it. If the dog in this county was beaten like that, what would happen? Towns said.
The GoFundMe campaign in Chicago to raise money for mental health services and a skate park based on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
As for national legislation, Crump called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2021 but not the evenly split Senate.
US Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, called for Congress to revive national police reform legislation and said the previously stalled legislation was a good starting point.
“It’s the right starting point, and Sen. (Cory) Booker, chairman of the crime subcommittee, has been working on this for years. I think he and Scott should sit down again to see if we can revive that effort. We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional, and humane way,” he said.
The 29-year-old was a father and also the baby of his family, the youngest of four children. He spent his Sundays doing laundry, and his mother said he was a good boy.
A GoFundMe created by Nichols’ mother has raised over $1,085,600 as of Sunday afternoon. The donations will go towards the cost of Wells’ and her husband’s mental health services as well as their time off from their jobs, according to the page. It also states that the skate park is to be built in honor of Tyre and his love for skating and sunsets.
We are Black and brown people and have gone down this road before. We keep hoping it doesn’t happen again — and then it does. Tyre was just trying to get home to his parents after a traffic stop. And he knew, just as well as the rest of us with Black and brown skin, that getting home was not guaranteed.
The Memphis Police: After 40 Years in the Life of a Black Student, Amadou Diallo: A Rise of the Elite Units
The elite units have been involved in their own scandals, where citizens have been harassed, abused and even killed. But even where they have been disbanded, they appear to be making a comeback.
Officers from the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit, which launched in the city’s anarchic 1970s with the motto “We Own the Night,” killed an unarmed Black student, Amadou Diallo, in 1999. They shot at him 41 times, hitting him with 19 bullets, when he reached for something they thought was a gun, but it was his wallet.
“We want people to be treated fairly,” she told CNN on Monday. I am sad and my heart is broken for this incident to happen.
He told Don Lemon on CNN This Morning that he wouldn’t second guess the decisions in Memphis, but said that units don’t create abuse. Abuse is caused by abusive behavior.
Davis previously worked for the Atlanta Police Department and was the commander of special operations, overseeing teams including the REDDO unit. Red Dog was shut down after years of complaints including a federal lawsuit filed by patrons of a gay bar after a raid.
Atlanta’s RED DOG unit – its acronym said to stand for Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia – was politically popular and Memphis’s SCORPION also received praise.
On the Mission, Mission, and Operations of Special Units in the Boston and Atlanta Crime Scenes: CNN Newsroom Interview with Kasie Hunt
“If you put a unit like this out on the street in this environment and you look at a number where they’re pulling in 170 or 180 people into custody every month after the unit gets started, you’ve got to take a closer look at what they’re doing – what those charges are, what the probable cause is, what the reason for the stops is,” he told Kasie Hunt on CNN Newsroom on Monday.
Units can quickly get out of control. He said that if you aren’t paying attention to the supervision then you have a problem. It is important to be constantly monitoring what the special squad are doing because of the potential for this type of behavior to occur.
“The other side of it is the culture,” he told Hunt. If it is called the SCORPION unit, what does it say about you to the officers who are in it and to the community?
“One of my first meetings I went to as a new police commissioner in Boston, I went to Mission Hill and listened to a group of 200-300 young black men who told me our units were jumping out of the cars and tipping guys upside down to see if a gun would come out. I went back and met with the gang unit after that, and I made it very clear that this was not the mission that I wanted accomplished. It’s impossible to make everybody who is between the ages of 15 and 25 a suspect.
Some cities are decreasing the number of these units due to low recruitment and a lack of officers, so they can return to their regular duties.
Others are reimagining them. Before Adams’ plans to resurrect an anti-crime unit, Atlanta set up a Titan Unit in the late summer of 2021 to target violent crime and announced another in March 2022 aimed at repeat offenders.
The Story of Tyre Nichols, the Last Days of Memphis: A Call for Action for Truth and Integrity in Community and Faith Based Organizations
A note about the president of a coalition of community and faith based organizations in Memphis, Tennessee. The executive director is Rev. Ayanna Watkins. The authors do not always agree with the views expressed here. There is more opinion on CNN.
Tyre Nichols may no longer be with us in the physical sense, but his story is not over. In our faith traditions, we trust that Tyre lives on as we continue to say his name and fight for change in his memory.
In the days leading up to the release of the video footage showing Tyre’s last moments, Memphis felt unnaturally quiet. A tense, uneasy quiet that wrapped around us like a fog. The effects of police violence on our community were well documented, such as the death of Darrius Stewart in 2015, and the fact that Martavious Banks narrowly escaped being shot in the same year. This time, it wasn’t the same. It felt heavier, ominous…and the eyes of the nation were on us.
Though we had not yet seen the video, we had seen the image of a swollen, battered young man in his hospital bed. We heard from his family’s lawyers the horrific descriptions of what had happened to him at the hands of law enforcement. We understood that his mother could barely watch the first minute of it. Without seeing, we knew.
Still, it seemed the city had entered a tense pause. Would this time be different? Would this case of death-by-policing lead to any substantive accountability or any lasting change in law enforcement? I don’t think we should hope there will be justice for Tyson when there has been no true justice for so many before him.
The videos confirmed what we knew all along, that it was time to fight for our lives. That is what we have been doing in the days since.
The story of our work started with that question. The coalition was formed after the police killing of Darrius Stewart. A few years later, we formed a working group calling for greater transparency from the MPD. Today, MICAH continues to work with powerful activist organizations such as Decarcerate Memphis and Official Black Lives Memphis Matter for data transparency and with the Justice and Safety Alliance to turn public attention into a new vision of public safety.
New officers in theMPD must have previous police or military experience, according to reports. A former lieutenant told the Associated Press, “They would allow pretty much anybody to be a police officer.” The MPD did not respond to questions about hiring standards but the new police chief, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, said it was important for less experienced officers to be supervised. She said, “Culture eats policy for lunch in police departments.”
We have also long called for Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) to have subpoena power. The one body that should have true community oversight in cases of police conduct has been so systematically disempowered, it is left to make recommendations that MPD is essentially free to ignore. Reporting what happens to CLERB recommendations received by the MPD would be a step toward greater accountability, under an article that was recently proposed.
The death of the 29-year-old Black man comes at a critical juncture in American law enforcement, as departments across the country – including the Memphis PD – struggle to recruit qualified officers and fill shifts, lure candidates with signing bonuses worth thousands of dollars, and at times curtail standards and training in a desperate bid to strengthen patrols amid rising gun violence, according to law enforcement experts.
“These are all lessons of history,” said Corey, the former NYPD chief. “You have to make the profession attractive to the type of people you want to recruit. It’s not that people have lost interest in policing. They just don’t see it as a viable occupation.”
When she arrived, Shields told me, the department was in worse shape than she imagined. She kept dozens of internal-affairs files on her desk, some of which had disturbing complaints about current officers. The department had no official disciplinary matrix, Shields said. The city’s lack of proper facilities, lack of audits of body camera footage to identify officer misconduct, and continued exodus of officers made her find inadequate facilities and lesson plans at the academy. Some of the department’s most important units, notably the special victims unit, were rife with internal sexual affairs that affected their productivity. Shields was troubled to learn that her detectives had an abysmal clearance rate, which was well below the national average. She learned that the state lab system took more than a year to return test results and that they were trying to solve cases without DNA. The clearance rate rose after Shields gave the unit the green light to work with a private lab.
“Over time you always want to look at the backgrounds of those officers – that will be important. The hiring process – that will be important,” he said. “In this case we don’t know enough yet.”
Haley, 30, was commissioned as an officer in January 2021, the records show. He is a former correctional officer. His attorney has not responded to requests.
According to records, Martin joined the department last year. William Massey, his attorney, said that no one intended for him to die.
The records show Mills joined the department in March last year. Mills was devastated by the news, said his attorney, who described him as’remorseful.’
SCORPION: Memphis police law enforcement? The lawsuit filed in June 2021 by a “gang of avengers”
The suit accuses the city of failing to address an alleged pattern of policing abuses by the SCORPION unit, which it believes operated like a “gang of avengers” without adequate training or supervision. Police wouldn’t say anything about the lawsuit due to ongoing litigation.
Davis, speaking at a Memphis city council meeting Tuesday, said training was not an issue with the unit. She said thategos and a wolf pack mentality contributed to the killing.
“Culture is not something that changes overnight. There is a saying in law enforcement that culture eats policy for lunch. We don’t want to just have good policies because policies can be navigated around,” she said. We want to ensure that we have the right people in place so our culture doesn’t change.
“The pandemic impacted recruiting and then George Floyd’s murder really was a moment in time that made prospective police applicants think twice – Is this a job for me?” Wexler said.
It was already difficult to hire a police officer after the death of the man they were looking to hire.
A former Memphis police lieutenant said that it was getting to the point of having sergeants as acting lieutenants. Hundreds of people did it because there weren’t enough supervisors. So many people were running out the door.”
Like other departments around the country, the Memphis PD in 2021 began offering $15,000 signing bonuses and $10,000 in relocation assistance. Additionally, requirements on college credits, military experience and employment history have been loosened, WMC reported.
The Jobs of the “Best in Blue” and the Corruption of the Police: Insights from the Memphis Police Department and the GOA
Greg Umbach, associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said there is a correlation between higher standards for new recruits and lower bad behavior.
“We know from decades of research that the number of cops meeting higher qualifications, most notably a college degree, matters far more than anything else, for the number of civilian complaints a department gets,” Umbach said.
And if the pipeline of good officers is low, Umbach said, then so is the quality of supervision – a reality that has plagued the Memphis Police Department and other agencies nationwide.
“Any police sergeant watching that video, their first thought is, ‘My God, where was the supervision and why did they think this was okay,’” Umbach said.
“If you pepper-spray someone or you tase someone, you’re supposed to call a supervisor,” said Davis, who spent 22 years on the job. That is just policy. I can’t say why they didn’t.
Law enforcement experts said it was not yet possible to say what factors contributed to the behavior of the former officers.
“The standards kept dropping and dropping to bring people in,” said Davis, who was in charge of recruiting. They started throwing money out to people to get them to come in.
The first thing they asked about was the money, just about everyone who came. How long did they have to stay on the job? Do I have to do a year? Two years? Nobody is going to make a career out of it. It was the money.
“It’s not the job that it used to be, when you felt like you’re the ‘best in blue’ and you have your head up because you really feel like you accomplished something,” said Davis, referring to the Memphis Police Department’s longtime “Join the best in blue” recruitment campaign. “It’s not that kind of job anymore.”
In the 1980’s a corruption scandal involving rogue officers nicknamed the “River Cops” resulted in 10% of the officers in the Miami Police Department being suspended or fired. Nearly 20 former police officers were convicted of using their powers as a crime syndicate to commit murder.
The GOA, the investigative arm of Congress, examined police corruption and found that the hiring of people who might not otherwise have been hired might have been a result of rapid recruitment initiatives.
He added, “What we ask of our cops is that they think like lawyers, speak like psychologists, and perform like athletes but we pay them as common laborers. A starting officer in New York City makes $42,000 a year, which means about $20 dollars an hour. It also means that at McDonald’s they could be making a living with no stress, trauma or risk.
The Police Headquarters Building had to be re-evaluated, and so did she in May 2021, the day after George Floyd died
Ms. Lightfoot said that they need to be bold when looking at poverty and systemic inequality. We need to break down the barriers that have prevented our residents from realizing their God-given talent, and we need to fight those in the face.
Mr. Adams drew attention to police brutality when he was a teenager after being beaten by the police.
As a congresswoman, Ms. Bass took a leading role in 2020 after George Floyd’s death on legislation that aimed to prevent excessive use of force by police and promoted new officer anti-bias training. It was approved by the House but not the Senate, and President Biden later approved some of the measures by executive order.
Ms. Lightfoot said that the police department had to be successful. “And to me, successful is defined by making sure that they’re the best trained police department, that they understand that the legitimacy in the eyes of the public is the most important tool that they have, and that we also support our officers — it’s a really hard and dangerous job.”
Shields was sitting at a conference table surrounded by boxes in her office when I met her. In what seemed too obvious a metaphor, the police headquarters building had been largely evacuated because of a long list of violations, including sewage leaking from ceiling tiles. That week had been busy for Shields. There was a triple shooting, a car stolen with a 6-year-old boy inside and a news conference announcing the arrest of two teens for killing another student at a school bus stop. At the public meeting the Black councilwoman nearly burst into tears and begged Shields to fix the department because they couldn’t take any more. The people living in the midst of violence would like more police presence, but they don’t want heavy-handed tactics.
One night in April 2021, Shields told me, a couple of dozen protesters took over an intersection in the Highlands, a mostly white neighborhood. The group was protesting the police killing of a man in Minnesota, who was shot and killed after he disobeyed an officer and tried to grab her gun. They were not letting cars go by. The business owners called the police because their businesses were already being hit by the Pandemic.