The USA has been besieged with double police standards for majority versus minority populations since forever. The horrific beating to death of Tyre Nichols is just another atrocious chapter in a vicious cycle of grief, brutality, injustice, and systemic violence.
As Ava Duvernay’s powerful documentary, 13th, brought the point home: the two-pronged cycle of police violence and incarceration is practically a replacement for the old slave culture. The domination of Black lives, the opportunities to steal free labor, the oppression of minority lives, and the negation of their rights are similar today if not identical.
All classes of minorities have experienced oppression at the hand of the police since the late 19th century. Indigenous Native Americans were bounty-hunted by officers of law and rounded off like herds away from the property when the government needed their lands. Poverty-stricken whites, Italian and Irish immigrants, and Mexican Americans throughout history have been subjects of many incidents. Their communities have often complained of atrocities and illegitimate treatment at the hand of law enforcement in the name of crime control. In the 60s, queer groups were easy targets of police harassment and discrimination; Muslim Americans had it bad in the post-9/11 days, while Asian racism revived in the pandemic years.
Having acknowledged that, once the institution of slavery was abolished, African Americans have been a persistent target of police brutality in a way that is both shocking and shameful.
Who Was Tyre Nichols?
At 29 years old, Tyre Nichols was a sweet son to a loving mom and a sweet father to a 4-year-old boy. He had stable employment with FedEx for the last 9 months but still wouldn’t give up his love of skateboarding. He was an aspiring freelance photographer and was hosting his portfolio on Wix, sharing his passion for a good capture with the world.
Tyre’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, describes him as a “good boy” who lived simply, doing laundry on the weekends, and playing around with his mother and his son. He was the baby of the family and brought everyone joy, giving hugs and bringing smiles as soon as he walked through the door. He came back from Sacramento, California to Memphis, Tennessee and joined his mother, trying to make a life for himself with his son here.
He was a free-spirited and deep soul who made friends with the people he daily encountered at the local Starbucks. His passion and belief in life were growing and he was developing a strong sense of self-determination – that he could achieve what he wanted to in life. It’s cruel that such a tender and vital soul met with a premature bludgeon of death at the hand of widespread systemic violence against his people.
What Happened to Tyre Nichols on January 7, 2023?
We use video footage from various sources released after Tyre Nichols’ death by official authorities to reconstruct the events leading to Tyre Nichols’ arrest and later death.
It was a typical day for Tyre and he was driving home when he was pulled over by the police just two minutes from his mother’s house in Memphis. According to the report filed by the police later, he was pulled over in a regular traffic stop though there is currently no evidence of a violation.
The officers were heard yelling and screaming expletives at him while stopping him and instructing him to get out. Nichols’ first response is “I didn’t do anything,” but then the officers engage in a scuffle to get him on the ground. After cooperating, Nichols says, “All right, I’m on the ground!”
The report also seemed to suggest that force was used because Tyre ran away from the police. However, the body cam footage later released by Memphis Police clearly shows that Tyre in fact did not run away at the time the police stopped and apprehended him. Instead, Nichols just told the police that he was trying to get home.
In the footage, as the officers hold him down on the ground on his side in an attempt to tie his hands behind his back, Nichols kept his tone of voice calm. While the officers yelled threats of giving him a beating, he only said: “You guys are really doing a lot right now.” At no point did the officers even explain the reason for the stop to Tyre, a practice that investigations since have found common in this police department.
Later more CCTV footage emerged, and multiple camera angles left no doubt that Tyre was in no way a threat to the police under any circumstances – the only condition in which police violence is excused.
With Tyre on the ground, officers threaten him again with beating and tasing. Tyre breaks free as police are trying to use the stun gun on him. Officers run in pursuit and call for backup.
Two police cars arrive at the intersection where Tyre’s car was stopped. They spot him running (presumably to his mother’s house nearby) and promptly inform the apprehending officers.
The officers catch up to Nichols and “re-apprehend” him, which is to say that they repeatedly use pepper spray on him. Trye is once again on the ground, this time on the pavement, and officers stand on top of him, yelling and screaming. They ask for his hands to handcuff him while he’s holding both hands close to his face in a defensive position against the pepper spray.
At last, Tyre gives the officers his hands and moves them around his back to be handcuffed. At this point, he starts calling for his mother, “Mom! Mom!” sometimes screaming, no doubt desperately hoping help would arrive. At this point, he was less than 80 yards from his (and his mother’s) home.
The officers repeatedly slap Tyre on the face as he staggers around from the effects of the spray. The beating starts. A group of officers stands on him and administer several strikes from the baton while others kick him around as he lies. At one point, officers can be seen pulling him straight up as more beatings continue including kicks and several strikes on his back.
At some point, Tyre complains of shortness of breath and the officers call in for medics.
When later, Tyre’s family and lawyers viewed the official footage, the lawyers described the brutality on record as “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop,” and “reminiscent of Rodney King beating.”
“What we can tell you about the video: It is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous … violent . And it’s very troublesome on every level, because you have to ask yourself, yet again, we’re seeing evidence of what happens to Black and brown people from simple traffic stops.”Benjamin Crump, Attorney, representing Tyre Nichols’ mother, Ravaughn Wells
Officers finally step away from Nichols as medics arrive on the scene. Two medics prop his body up against one of the unmarked police cars. Tyre’s injuries are clearly visible at this point. Medical personnel can be clearly seen standing about but no one offers him any aid.
One of the original police officers involved in the beating snaps pictures of the injured man and even forwards them to fellow officers and other friends, per later reports. Everyone seems to be waiting for an ambulance to arrive and take Nichols to the hospital.
In the footage, officers can be seen bragging about how they beat Nichols. Some officers are claiming that Nichols reached to grab their gun several times. However, footage from various sources, especially body cam, has confirmed this is untrue. Similarly, officers mention details of his “traffic violations” for which he was stopped, such as swerving the car towards the police, driving around instead of stopping, jumping out of the car, etc. but none of the footage evidence confirms these claims.
Medical personnel start attending to Nichols only as EMS and EMT ambulances are arriving on the scene.
What Happened After Tyre Nichols’ January 7 Beating by the Police?
The ambulance transported Tyre Nichols to Memphis’ St. Francis Francis Hospital in critical condition according to the police report.
Tyre’s severe beatings and his status prompted the hospital staff to notify the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office. At this point, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), a request was filed for TBI special agents to conduct a “use-of-force” investigation of the officers involved in this beating.
Pending the outcome of this investigation, Memphis Police Department routinely relieved the five officers involved of their police duty.
The hospital confirmed that the beating was indeed severe and that Tyre had sustained “extensive bleeding” as a result. His condition stayed critical for three days. The doctors’ told Tyre’s mom that he had gone into cardiac arrest and his kidney functions were failing.
Tyre Nichols Loses Fight for Life on January 10, 2023
Tyre Nichols was a sufferer of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory digestive issue that kept him at the lower end of body mass. He weighed between 140-145 lb despite his 6’3″ frame, according to his mother. The condition leads to abdominal pain, frequent diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and general malnutrition, a picture that seems consistent with the post-beatings scenario with Tyre.
Tyre was never able to escape his “critical condition” status and died from the severe bleeding he sustained in the beatings.
Firings of the Officers Involved in the Tyre Nichols Beating
The five black officers involved in the beating of Tyre Nichols were fired after an internal investigation at the Memphis Police Department confirmed the unnecessary use of force and unprofessional behavior in this tragedy.
At this point, footage of Tyre’s beings had been released intensifying the wave of protest and outcry that had begun at Nichols’ death.
Memphis Fire Department also began an internal investigation of the medics team from their department that had responded to the call for aid. Their lack of prompt attention to Tyre despite obvious bleeding played an undeniable role in his death later, as their intervention could have stopped some bleeding stabilizing his condition to a little extent. Video analysis by NBC shows that Tyre waited 16 whole minutes before the now-fired Memphis Fire Department medics finally began attending to him.
Curiously, the 6th police officer who was white and very much present on the scene was also fired for misuse of the stun gun, but the news was deliberately withheld in the beginning. This officer was suspended nearly the same time as the other five officers fired but the announcement was made only at the end of January. Tyre’s family and attorneys criticized this move as reflective of dual standards in case of white versus black officers:
We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community — this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion. It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.Ben Crump, Tyre Nichols’ family attorney
Sombre Takeaways From Tyre Nichols’ Disturbing Beating and Death
A. Race of the Suspect Matters Most in Police Beatings.
Black officers have been involved in police brutality and murders of African Americans before. But so have whites, Hispanic, and more. The following graphic shows the astonishing bias against African-American people in fatal police shootings – notice the comparison to the total population sizes in the graphic below. As USA Today reported, “a ‘historically biased culture of policing’ puts Black people at risk regardless of an officer’s race.”
B. USA Police System is Broken and Inherently Violent
“Black people and Black police officers can carry with them some of the same understandings or views of Black people as white police officers might. There’s nothing that immunizes them.”Ralph Richard Banks, law professor and faculty director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice.
Years of research have identified three major root causes of police brutality:
- Racial Profiling: The tendency to suspect someone of wrongdoing based on their appearance and identity.
- Law Enforcement Corruption: Corruption exists in many forms but the culture of not reporting or taking prompt action against fellow blue uniforms when they express unprofessional or prejudiced attitudes is one of the biggest.
- Inadequate Training: This is the major argument of those Defund the Police slogans. Hiring more colored people or locals on a city’s force has not given any solutions to racial profiling. Analysis of all the deaths by police in the USA shows loose trigger- or boot-happy guidelines and a lack of systematic control via training and accountability over transgressions.
C. Black Police Officers Are Dealt With Way More Swiftly Than White Officers
Lawyers and other professionals and academics have remarked on the promptness with which the officers were investigated, found guilty, and fired by their police department. This rarely happens when officers are from other races, especially whites.
It can be a struggle to get murderous officers off the streets when they are white, a fight to get them properly prosecuted, and a miracle to get the right verdict from the jury. Something tells us this won’t happen with the court cases against the five Black police officers.
Tyre Nichols was on his way to gaining a stronger foothold in life with a job, family, friends, dreams, passion, and healthy ambitions for his own and his son’s future. That his journey of self-actualization was cut short by law enforcement corruption and criminal irresponsibility at all levels of the police system is too cruel to be forgiven or forgotten.
“All my son was trying to do was get home. … He was two minutes from the house when they stopped him. He was less than 80 yards away when they murdered him. Yes, I said murder … because when I walked into that hospital room, my son was already dead.”Ravaughn Wells, Tyre Nichols mother