The Tragedy of Tyre Nichols
Having a wonderful son the same age as Tyre Nichols, I can only imagine the pain of his mother and father. Like my own son, Tyre seems to have been a wonderful guy … full of life … and admired by all who knew him. His loss – in and off itself—is a tragedy. How he lost his life compounds the magnitude of the tragedy.
The circumstance of his death has all the elements of Greek tragedy. I have been following the case closely and there are so many facets to embrace.
Tyre’s Death Versus the Floyd Case
First and foremost are the circumstances of his death. They are not entirely comparable to the George Floyd case, as many anti-police activists would have us believe. In fact, of the millions of arrests – and thousands of deaths by police – both cases are relatively rare.
The Floyd murder involved three police officers – two white and one person-of-color (Asian) as they are now known. One was the active killer and the other two guilty of not interceding,
The Nichols killing (yet to be officially a murder) was at the hands of five police officers – all black – and there were other officers and paramedics on the scene – perhaps ten or more. Five burly officers pounding on a 150-pound unarmed young man is not an even match. It seems that they were preferring to beat Nichols rather the subdue him. They were attacking Nichols in a manner that was clearly illegal and a violation of basic police training.
The other similarity in the cases was the capture of the action by video recordings – from cell phones in the case of Floyd to body cams and surveillance cams in the case of Nichols. In the Floyd case, the video evidence was not as compelling on its own. It had to be supported by witnesses and an autopsy. In the Nichols case, the police violence was obvious, shocking, and graphic. What caused Nichols’ death was much more obvious to the viewer.
The other obvious distinction between the Floyd and Nichols cases is that there was no case for racism. The Floyd case had many claiming racism, but that was never officially established as a motivation. No matter. Those invested in spreading racist narratives seized on the case.
Who Were These Cops?
Because of the number of police involved – and the fact that they were all from a special unit called SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) – there is a question of training and culture. That unit has been disbanded.
We still need to know what triggered this group violence. On the video, the police looked more like a gang of thugs than police engaging in a traffic stop. Why were there so many police involved in a traffic stop? Why did they approach Nichols so aggressively at the onset – rather than just asking to see his license and issue a ticket, if appropriate?
Why didn’t other officers intercede? Why didn’t the paramedics respond quicker? All this will be flushed out in the courts – but it does not look good for those on the scene, whether they are charged with crimes or not.
Swift Justice … and the Police Chief
If there is any part of this event that should assuage public concern, it is the official response. The officers involved were quickly arrested and charged with second-degree murder – among other things. The arrests and charges came swiftly. Given the fact that Nichols’ death cannot be undone, swift justice is all that a just society can provide.
The system worked.
I was also struck by the candor of Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis. In an interview on CNN, she did not dodge any questions or show restraint in her opinions.
There was no coy deflecting because the case is “still under investigation.” She left no room for doubt that in her opinion, it was an open-and-shut case of murder by her own police officers. Davis was so forthright that I wondered if she had not provided defense attorneys with claims of prejudicing the jury pool.
At the same time, however, it was refreshing to hear her state the obvious rather than hide behind official double-talk.
I was struck by the graciousness and dignity of the Nichols family – especially the mother. In a very long interview on CNN, she mourned her son, but amazingly expressed sympathy for the police who killed him.
She said that she felt sorry for them because they brought shame on themselves … their families … and the black community. She said that there are a lot of good police officers, and she knows some.
She also pleaded that public reaction should be peaceful She also expressed her belief that something good would come out of it. It was a remarkable response from a woman who has every right to be angry and bitter.
Politicizing the Tragedy
As can be expected, there were a lot of voices in the media that leaped on this tragedy to advance their political agendas. Despite all the individuals involved being black, a number of media personalities and panelists played the race card – some calling it the “result of white privilege.”
That is utter nonsense. These are police who went rogue for reasons that are being investigated.
The anti-policing faction of the Democrat Party was in full force in the news – as if this event represented the thousands of police officers across America. Terrible as it is, the killing of young Nichols was an exception to the millions of police interactions, arrests, and even killings.
It does not prove that policing across America is broken. There are bad cops – but they are rare. There may even be institutional problems in some places – but they are few. Maligning all police for political gains is wrong and destructive.
The response by the Memphis Police Chief and the prosecutors could not have been more expeditious and more appropriate. It is obvious that the criminal justice system is working just fine in Memphis. I expect that the officers involved and culpable – including others who failed to intercede – will receive the justice they deserve in a court-of-law. That is the best outcome we can expect.
So, there ‘tis.