Black InterestsBlack Lives MatterBlack Men

The Death of Tyre Nichols, The Memphis Police, and the Silence of the FOP


By Gary A. Johnson (Publisher Black Men In

Originally posted January 28, 2023.  Updated January 30, 2023.

The release of the horrific video evidence of the beating of Tyre Nichols was hard for me to watch.  I mean hard.  As the father of two black sons in his age group, I watched all the videos and each time, I kept thinking, “that could have been my son.”  As of January 30, 2023, a sixth Memphis police officer, Preston Hemphill, who is White, has been relieved of duty and placed on “administrative leave.”

I’ve read and watched dozens of media reports that use the phrase “allegedly beaten by Memphis Police Officers.”  Are you f@^king kidding me?  I guess there are legal and journalistic requirements that compel the use of the word “allegedly.”  I know what I saw.  I saw Tyre Nichols dragged from his car and pepper sprayed while cooperating and on the ground.  No drugs.  No guns.  No past criminal history has been reported.

Police have said that Nichols was taken to hospital after complaining of shortness of breath.  As per reports, he suffered a broken neck and cardiac arrest due to a violent confrontation.  An independent autopsy found that Nichols suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.  The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found that Nichols’ injuries and beatings were consistent with what his family and attorney witnessed in the body cam footage.

This photo provided by the family showed Nichols with a swollen eye and blood on his face.

Based on what I saw on the video recording, Nichols tried to deescalate the violence by telling the officers that he was cooperating.  At one point, he asked the officers what he did wrong.  They told him to get on the ground.  He did.  That wasn’t good enough.  They cursed him and told him to lie on his stomach.  Nichols told the officers that he just wanted to go home.  In the end, he cried and screamed for his mother, who was 80 to 100 yards away from her home.

Tyre Nichols did not have to die!  This was another police murder at the hands of law enforcement. 

None of the police officers turned to the other and said, “Hey man.  That’s enough.”  Two Sheriff’s deputies and Memphis Fire Department personnel are being investigated for their role in this tragic loss of life.  Apparently, they did not try to stop the police so they could render lifesaving aid.  This is an ongoing investigation and more arrests and suspensions would not surprise me.

I read one report that the police officers may have felt “disrespected,” because Mr. Nichols did not comply with their orders fast enough.  According to the NY Times, the officers shouted 71 commands within a time span of 13 minutes.

Five of the six police officers were members of a 40-member SCORPION unit.  This police unit has been described as “specialized” and “elite.”  These officers appear to have been allowed to operate in unmarked cars and emboldened to target crime and stamp out lawlessness in this community.  It also appears that these officers saw this mostly black community comprised as suspects first and not citizens. When did a traffic stop become a violent crime?  Where was the supervision for this unit?  What kind of training did they have?  This was sadistic behavior.  Given what we know, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the question:  Why were these young officers on the police force?  These were young police officers (ages 24 to 32 years of age).  Memphis Police disbanded the SCORPION unit a few days after this incident.

The five officers face several criminal charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.  All the officers through their attorneys say they are not guilty.

Officer Preston Hemphill

Three fire personnel who responded to the scene were terminated January 30, 2023, after an internal investigation by the Memphis Fire Department.

Robert Long, JaMichael Sandridge, and Lt. Michelle Whitaker were found to have violated multiple department policies in their patient response to Nichols.

Bean, Haley, Martin, Mills and Smith were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault.

I find the kidnapping charge of the first 5 officers arrested to be a flag.  When I heard that kidnapping was charged that made me think that the stop was unnecessary.  Why was he stopped?  I conducted research about the kidnapping charge and discovered that under Tennessee law, kidnapping requires that a person “knowingly removes or confines another unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with the other’s liberty.”  That tells me that prosecutors think that stopping Nichols was illegal.  Were these a bunch of rogue police officers just looking for another brother to stop?  Police initially said that Nichols fled on foot during a traffic stop for reckless driving and that a “confrontation” occurred when the officers tried to detain him.  That’s not what I saw.

I’ve watched and listened to media and perspectives across the political spectrum.  I saw a host on the FOX News network, explain that there should not be a rush to judgment on the police officers, because we have not seen the autopsy or the toxicology report.  To that I say, “STFU.”  There is NO justification for what I saw on the video.  Typically, police will claim that there was some aggressive action by the suspect that justified their behavior.  That happened in the Nichols incident.  I saw no aggressive action by Mr. Nichols.  The officers apparently were not aware of the video camera on a telephone pole that contradicted many statements in their police report. 

And stop with the citing of statistics that Black people commit a higher percentage of crime, therefore they should be profiled more.  OK, does that mean that Tyre Nichols deserved to die at the hand of police officers who took an oath to “protect and serve all citizens?”  I’ll wait.

These police officers behaved as if they had the right to do anything that they wanted to this Tyre Nichols.  The police culture made this incident possible.  In this case, the lessons of these 5 Black officers, is the same as White police officers.  That lesson is Black men are to be feared and their lives are less valuable.  This is what the culture dictates and the surrounding systems support and reinforce this thinking and behavior.

The main reason these incidents continue is because EVERY SYSTEM HAS A NEED TO REPLICATE ITSELF.  Until you truly understand “systems thinking,” you will NEVER fully reform police culture and the systems that support that culture.  Think about it.  It’s not like politicians and leaders haven’t been trying to reform police departments.  Here’s what hasn’t happened effectively.  The Police Departments, their unions, and the communities that they serve must be jointly committed to reforming the culture.  In addition, an environment must be created that will allow for new insights about policing throughout each of the following levels:

  • Police Leadership and Management
  • Police Unions (Fraternal Order of Police)
  • Police Officers
  • Citizens

This swift justice of these 6 police officers (Emmit Martin III, Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Preston Hemphill, and Desmond Mills) has set a precedent.  This quick sharing of information with the public should be the new standard for all police officers involved in similar cases.  This would be a solid step toward reforming the culture of policing.

The silence of the police union speaks volumes.  The police union usually steps in and assists in the legal defense of incidents involving police officers.  There may be legitimate reasons why the police union has not supported these Black police officers.

It looks like the police union is sending a message to these law enforcement officers.  That message is:  “When you do this kind of shit, you are on your own.”  Or to be more specific: Police unions will not support Black police officers who demonstrate this level of gross misconduct like they have for some of their white counterparts.

For years I’ve heard politicians and local leaders talk about police reform and changing the culture of policing.  Body cameras and not enough.  Let’s step back and focus on the “culture of policing.”  These Black police officers behaved like many other police officers.

When you break the word “culture” down to explain it to a 5th grader, in my mind, culture means, “the way things get done.”  What we saw in those 5 Black police officers, was behavior of police officers who believe they were invincible.  The system was built on a racist foundation and serves as the umbrella for the culture.

Now, let me pull the covers back for a moment.  What is REALLY jarring is that Black police officers, knowing how Black men have been treated by police, would exhibit the same behavior as White officers.  That is hard for many people to understand.  These officers are a disgrace to their friends and their families. 

Many people are asking the question: “How could these Black men behave that way?” Ask yourself this question:  Would 5 Black police officers have beaten a White motorist like they beat Tyre Nichols? I say NO!” Why? Because those Black officers have been “culturally conditioned” to see Black males as “less than” and dangerous. Therefore, police officers feel justified in treating Black men less than human.  In addition, they have little or no fear of being seriously reprimanded. When things go unchallenged, they seem normal. This is what happens in a system.  If the system has elements of racism, that makes the task of changing or reforming the system more difficult, because every living system has a need to replicate itself.

This is our challenge as a nation.

When things go unchallenged, they seem normal.  This is what happens in a system.  In this case the system involves police culture.  Disrespecting Black and brown citizens has been going on for so long without any serious consequences, that over time it seems normal.  This is NOT normal.  Remember what I told you earlier.  Every system has a need to replicate itself. 

I come from a police family.  My mother and Godmother retired from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.  There were police Chiefs and officers in and out of our house throughout my childhood.  I get it.  Police operate in a world of chaos, stress, and vulnerability.  To say that a Police Officer has a difficult job is colossal understatement.

As a community, I think about any lessons we can take away from this incident.  Will we grow as a community?  I am sure that more details will be revealed as the days and weeks go on.  I will stop here for now.  I pray for the Nichols family and for those police officers and their families.  Countless lives have been and will be changed from the events of this horrific event.

By all accounts, from what we know, Tyre Nichols was a devoted son, brother, and the father of a 4-year-old son.  According to his mother, he loved skateboarding and photography.  As of January 27, 2023, the five officers indicted on charges in the death of Tyre Nichols have been released from jail after posting bail.  All five are due in court Feb. 17, 2023.

Photo credit:  WATN

Black Men In
Since our launch in 2001, Black Men In has evolved from a news site focusing on black men to a well-rounded social, current events and political website featuring content that people want to share and talk about.  We have thought-provoking content that aims to educate, entertain and inspire our site visitors to become good citizens and role models in their community.  Please do not use this site to post or transmit any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including without limitation any transmissions constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, national or international law. You alone are responsible for the material you post.

To Whom Should This Post be Addressed: Biden, Vilsack, the CBC, or the People?

Previous article

Memphis Police Beating: Jayson Whitlock Is Terribly Misguided (In My Opinion)

Next article

You may also like


Leave a Reply