IEL is horrified by and condemns the violence that led to the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.
Once again, police officers used excessive force to violently arrest a Black man after a traffic stop. According to CNN, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has announced that Tyre “died due to injuries sustained in the ‘use-of-force incident with officers,’” and that he “suffered ‘extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,’ according to preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by attorneys for his family.” Adding to the heinous nature of this attack on an unarmed Tyre, a significant amount of time passed after the beating before anyone tried to administer medical assistance to him.
The five police officers involved, who are also Black, have been fired from the Memphis force and are now facing criminal charges, including second-degree murder.
This unthinkable atrocity at the hands of officers of the law, no matter what race, shows that no progress has been made in systemically changing how police treat people of color. Have we forgotten the images of the not-so-distant past depicting this same type of brutality as Rodney King was clubbed, kicked, and broken? The audio of George Floyd calling for his mother as he was choked to death? These images, videos, and the countless instances of police brutality that go uncaptured or unpunished are not old relics – they are still the reality for so many communities across our county.
In the past decade, public confidence in law enforcement has sharply declined. In addition, according to Pew Research Center, there are wide racial disparities in how Americans experience policing. While almost half of Black adults polled said they have been unfairly stopped by the police, only 19% and 9% of Hispanic and White adults said that has happened to them.
While the majority of Americans surveyed said they support giving civilians the power to sue police officers to hold them accountable, officers are still entitled to qualified immunity even if they break Constitutional law, protecting them from liability in civil cases. Despite infamous cases of police brutality consistently rocking our nation, only three states have passed laws that limit the application of qualified immunity.
Lessons from the traumas caused by systemic police brutality seem to go unlearned. So what can we do?
We need to reexamine as a society what protections we have put in place for law enforcement in the justice system. Unfortunately, we cannot separate the impact of race on justice, as discrimination, unfair policing and incarceration practices have had a real impact on the Black community– financially, physically and psychologically.
At IEL, our work focuses on dismantling systems of oppression within our educational system, but we cannot stop there. We stand with the NAACP and their calls to improve police accountability and transparency by ending qualified immunity and creating robust data collection practices on police encounters.
Solutions to these problems shouldn’t lie solely in the hands of those that govern us, but should come from members of the most vulnerable communities experiencing this violence and increased profiling.
We cannot wait for public outrage and viral videos to enact change. We must apply pressure continuously to pass police reform legislation and work together to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.