By Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – The brutal beating and resulting death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Black cops in Memphis, Tenn., has roiled African-Americans and other people nationwide who are again trying to wrap their heads around the senseless death of another Black man and the fact that his killers are also Black.
Law enforcement officials investigating the brutal January 7th beating released a harrowing hour-long video of the barbaric treatment of Nichols, a 29-year-old father of a 4-year-old, and a treasured son and friend. The five cops who appeared to be most involved – were fired by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, after she reviewed the video tape recordings. They disregarded Nichols’ considerable injuries from their fists, pepper spray and a baton and first responders milled about, appearing to be in no hurry to rush him to the hospital.
Three emergency medical technicians, members of the Memphis Fire Department, have been fired in the incident and two additional police officers have since been relieved of their duties. The California transplant, who loved skateboarding, photography, sunsets, his son and his mother, died in a hospital three days after the beating.
“You know, it’s more of the same,” sighed Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, a veteran social justice activist, wife and mother, of this latest highly publicized police-involved killing. Like emotions expressed by others, it has left her disgusted and angry. “I’m frustrated. It was unnecessary. One of the main things is that in conversation, people always talk about diversifying the police force. But hiring more Black faces in a White supremacist institution is not the answer.”
Sankara-Jabar, co-founder and co-director of Racial Justice NOW, said advocates, activists and organizations with suggested solutions have been ignored.
“They need to listen to people who want to disinvest in police departments and invest in jobs and people, especially those excited about entrepreneurship. There are so many things this country won’t do. We need people with the political will.”
Recently, President Joe Biden at the American Conference of Mayors, declared that he’s not defunding the police. “And the mayors – many of them Black – applauded him,” said Sankara-Jabar, also director of educational policy with the Wayfinder Foundation. “We don’t have elected officials who are willing to be bold. And until we break down the power of police unions, nothing will change.”
The Memphis chief of police fired the five officers who beat Nichols. They were investigated and arrested shortly afterward and charged with seven crimes including second-degree murder. Nichols’ death sparked protests in cities around the country. His family lawyer, Antonio Romanucci, said he sustained “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.” Activist lawyer Benjamin Crump, co-counsel to Romanucci, said the officers used Nichols as “a human pinata.”
Ron Hampton, a police officer with Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department for 23 years, agreed saying he’s been “at it” for years working from the inside to effect change in police departments. Serving on committees, taskforces and organizations working to push against the structural racism, Hampton said the baked in bias and discrimination and the influential people in place to uphold the status quo have proven to be formidable barriers to meaningful change.
“I’m tired and frustrated,” Hampton said. “I’ve been doing this for a longtime. But (people) are hardheaded…We don’t listen. I was actually there, been working on this sh*t. When I was there, I saw so much.”
What he saw included beatings and brutality of both innocent and guilty victims and a special unit called the “jump out” boys who profiled and rousted residents.
Hampton, who retired from the police department in 1994, is a member of the DC Police Reform Commission and teaches criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia, says 85 percent of what police do has nothing to do with public safety. He said Americans need to have difficult conversations about policing and exert the will to make the necessary changes. On a personal level, he said, he worries all the time when his daughters and wife go out because he fears that they may encounter an officer who may hurt or kill them.
“Right now, we should be looking at how do we reduce the footprint of these people in society,” Hampton said of bad law enforcement. “Are there things we can hand off? Because this is not working. But the politicians can’t say no to the police. And fearmongering by cops is used to bring the public on board. Black folks know that more money and more police will not make Black people safer, will not make that relationship better.”
Dr. Rayshawn Ray, a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, is one of many who likens American law enforcement to a rotten tree that has produced bad apples.
“In policing, people always talk about ‘bad apples.’ Well, bad apples come from rotten trees – law enforcement agencies imbued with structural racism,” said Ray in a Brookings article titled, ‘Bad Apples Come from Rotten Trees in Policing.”
Ray said that for the past decade, he has worked with dozens of police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, and the US military.
“I have researched body-worn camera programs and conducted countless implicit bias courses. While these solutions to police brutality matter, they fall short of dealing with the rotten trees because they focus on the bad apples,” writes Ray, a professor of Sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, College Park in the article. “In order to fundamentally solve police brutality, we have to replant the roots of rotten trees within law enforcement. To deal with rotten roots, America needs to be honest that law enforcement originated from slave patrols meant to capture my ancestors who aimed to flee from enslavement. America has not fully dealt with this.”
Dr. Melina Abdullah – a professor and former chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter – said police departments and law enforcement cannot be reformed.
“I’m an abolitionist who believes that policing is irredeemable. There’s nothing that will make it work. We need to implement crisis measures including removing police from mental health calls and traffic stops. Why did the police need to respond? We have to remove police from where they obviously don’t belong.”
In the first weeks of January, the Los Angeles Police Department killed three men by shooting and/or tasing them. In at least two cases, the men were experiencing mental health crises. Abdullah and BLM-LA have been pressuring elected officials and the police chief to be more transparent in these and other cases where members of the city’s Black and brown residents encounter police or are killed or hurt by police officers. At the same time LAPD officials are asking for a larger budget.
In the article by Rayshawn Ray, he argues that there needs to be a restructuring of civilian payouts for police misconduct because police officers are typically shielded from the financial impact of payouts. Instead, taxpayers have footed the bill for misconduct to the tune of $33 million in St. Louis, $50 million in Baltimore and more than $650 million over the past 20 years in Chicago.
“I think it’s maintaining the status quo but beyond – police are advocating for an expansionist view,” said Abdullah. “They’re really trying to gobble up more and more of resources. They’re moving toward a police state.”