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Killing of Tyre Nichols Another in a Long List of Police Violence

by Rosetta Miller Perry

Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols Courtesy of the family

“Man, I was hitting him with straight haymakers, dog,” a cop can be heard saying as his bodycam footage rolled. 

It went on that way for about twenty minutes, with multiple officers milling around and discussing their beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, who was then laying on the ground against a car.

The usual narratives are in play: he should have complied (he did), he shouldn’t have run (it didn’t justify being beaten anyway), the officers feared for their lives. But it was Tyre Nichols’s life that was truly in danger.

Upon viewing bodycam footage of the initial stop two officers can be seen immediately becoming verbally and physically aggressive. An officer screams, “Get on the ground!” after tearing Nichols from his vehicle. The officers were in unmarked cars.


“Alright, I’m on the ground,” Nichols replied. They continue to scream at him to get on the ground after he’s already complied. “You don’t have to do this,” Nichols says. They attempt to taser him, but Nichols is able to momentarily flee until police begin an active search and apprehend him on Castlegate Lane and Bear Creek Lane, a reported mere 80 yards from Nichols’s home.

One cop appeared to have broken his baton while beating Nichols, with bodycam footage showing him attempting to retract it on the ground to no avail. Another screams at and threatens Nichols after inadvertently pepper-spraying himself and another officer. Officers hold Nichols up so another can punch and slap him. When he falls to the ground, the officers kick him repeatedly, eventually dragging him to a car a few feet away and propping him up against it, talking amongst themselves as if what had just transpired was nothing. 

The somewhat celebratory nature of the commentary by those cops was peppered with predictable narratives blaming the unarmed victim for their own actions. But they’re the ones that supposedly have training, that should be deescalating the situation. And yet they were clearly the aggressors, from the first point of contact on.

These men are the ones with the badges. They’re the ones with the authority. They’re the ones who have training, who swear to protect and serve the community and yet, an innocent man is dead, his family is heartbroken, and the Memphis community is hurting. 

It’s a unique story in that the officers have been charged with second degree murder, kidnapping, and assault. But police violence is not an uncommon occurrence. The Guardian reported that there were 1,176 reported police killings in the U.S. in 2022 alone; further, there have been more than 600 people reported killed during traffic stops nationwide since 2017, with Black victims disproportionately affected. This is only the data given, and does not reflect deaths blamed on some other factor (shortness of breath, drugs were in the victim’s system, etc.).


The deadly beating of Nichols also calls into question the validity of the idea that a diverse police department equals a safer population if this type of violence is acceptable among officers. Not one of them stopped the beatings against Nichols, who was unarmed and had not committed any crime. If they didn’t participate in it, they watched it or walked around the area. The prosecution of those involved shouldn’t stop at the five officers already arrested.

Further, community members have been reported to have complained of excessive force and aggressiveness from the special unit recently created to address more serious crimes than alleged “reckless driving.”

Launched in 2021, the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) Unit was supposedly specially formed to respond to dampen the city’s murder rate, but, following Nichols’s death, the unit has been disbanded.

There was no restoration of peace in Memphis that night, as the officers in that unit carried out a violent and senseless attack on another human being.

The lawyer for Nichols’s family, attorney Ben Crump, said the unit was allowed to operate “like a pack of wolves.” 


It’s worth noting the critical role of the pole camera footage in the swift firing and arrest of the five former officers, who have now bonded out. The bodycam footage lets us hear what’s happening and what’s being said; it evokes the pain and despair in our cores as Nichols calls for his mother. But the pole camera very clearly catches the incomprehensible violence inflicted upon Tyre Nichols—Three heart-rending minutes of punch after punch, kick after kick, baton strike after baton strike. Then what feels like an eternity of hopelessness as Nichols, clearly in need of someone to help him, is shrugged off by anyone who could.

Only the power of their badge protects them from the justice we expect them to uphold, and the only time change comes is when the white middle class is affected. Until the focus of police and policing is protecting people the change we seek will elude us. 

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