When George Floyd was murdered by police on May 25, 2020 — his death was captured on video by bystanders and shared widely via social media — we hoped for real change. We hoped to never again see such brutality.
Our hope was real. It pushed the idea of police abolition further into the mainstream than ever before.
But without action from those in power, police killings continued. And now added to the list of people who should still be alive is Tyre Nichols.
Nichols, a 29-year-old father, skateboarder, and aspiring photographer, was beaten by five Black police officers in Memphis, Tennessee on Jan. 7, 2023, following a traffic stop that not even police have been able to justify.
Nichols died three days later. While officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills, Jr., all took turns beating Tyre, he called out for his mother.
It was a detail we learned when the body cam and street surveillance videos were released on Jan. 27.
But even before the videos were made public, Memphis’ police department scrambled to get ahead. The five Black officers were fired on Jan. 20, and only charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping six days later. Since then, one more officer, Preston Hemphill, who is white, was fired, as were three members of the Memphis Fire Department who failed to provide aid to Nichols after he was beaten.
What followed the release of the video — which was on the heels of the police killing of Manuel “Tortugita” Esteban Paez Terán and Keenan Anderson, just to name a few — were the marches and the renewed calls for justice in the form of abolition.
Meanwhile, politicians and elected officials across the country, many who have increased police budgets despite public cries to redirect funds from police to other vital services, were ironically quick to condemn the actions of the Memphis police officers.
San Francisco’s District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who has refused to hold police accountable for the killings of Black and Brown men in our own city, seized the opportunity and tweeted: “As a Black woman & member of law enforcement, I feel a greater obligation to treat people with dignity & respect in this role. What I witnessed was mob violence & abuse of power.”
Kevin de Leon, the lone remaining disgraced Los Angeles councilmember who was recorded partaking in racist anti-Black rhetoric, took to social media standing “in solidarity” with the Nichols family.
These performative calls are some that we have heard from politicians before. But to no avail. For if there is anything we know, it’s that there is no possible reform that will stop police from unleashing their brutality on our communities. To stop police killings, police must be abolished.
After George Floyd was murdered, we were promised police accountability in the form of the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. We were promised more body cameras, transparency, community training initiatives, and “diversity” among police departments.
Wasn’t Derek Chauvin surrounded by officers of color who refused to intervene? Weren’t Philando Castile and Derrick Gaines both killed by officers of color?
Diversifying police departments does not translate into the lessening of harm that has historically been inflicted on communities that are poor and largely of color. It empowers officers of color to share and participate in the brutalization of said communities.
What the killing of Tyre shows us is that there is no amount of diversity or reform that will quell historic police violence. All of the supposed safeguards that were promised in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were in place the night Tyre was wrongfully stopped and beaten. The officers were Black, they had functioning body cameras, they belonged to a unit whose mission allegedly was to “Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.” What Tyre’s murder shows us is if an institution is rooted in maintaining a white supremacist power structure, it remains a white supremacist institution. Regardless of the skin color of the officer wearing the uniform.
In a 2016 article published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Jen Fifield wrote about how the strategies of Baltimore’s fairly diverse police force lead to “severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans.”
When Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd — a verdict that was only possible with the breaking of glass and the burning of buildings — El Tecolote wrote: “Without the dismantling of this brutal system and the creation of something new, these killings will continue.”
Our view remains the same.
To conclude this editorial, we’d like to end with the words of Tyre. As mentioned above, he was a photographer, and the following are words from his own website. May we all share his passion for life.
“My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what i am seeing through my eye and out through my lens. People have a story to tell why not capture it instead of doing the “norm” and writing it down or speaking it. I hope to one day let people see what i see and to hopefully admire my work based on the quality and ideals of my work…” — Tyre D. Nichols
To visit the website of Tyre Nichols or find more information about how to donate to his family, see below.