The Tragic Inevitability of Tyre Nichols

Image courtesy of Paul Becker via Wikimedia Commons Tyre Nichols protest

The Tragic Inevitability of Tyre Nichols

We have all seen the body cam and surveillance footage by now. The images are stark. On Jan. 7, 2023, police pulled over a young man for a traffic stop. We all know him now as Tyre Nichols. Police dragged him out of his car at a traffic light. Most of the police officers are in plainclothes. They proceed to punch, kick, beat with a baton and spray an irritant into the face of Nichols.

He runs away in the direction of his mother’s home after an officer attempt to shock him with a Taser. When the police catch up to him, they continue to beat him even more violently than before. At one point, one of the police officers appears to kick Nichols in the face.

During the chaos, Nichols does not offer any resistance despite receiving confusing and inconsistent demands from the police officers. Afterwards, he is left slumped to the ground while the police officers wait 26 minutes for paramedics to arrive. He would die of his injuries three days later.

The Memphis Police Department wasted no time, firing five police officers involved in the assault. All five would be indicted for second degree murder of Tyree Nichols. Memphis would fire other first responders on the scene as well. The City would disband the controversial Scorpion Unit that had made the initial traffic stop.

The speed with which Memphis officials reacted to the situation is a welcome change to how most cases of police brutality are handled. However, the fact that horrible atrocity occurred is one that is tragically inevitable in today’s society. This is because many police officers think they can get away with almost anything. Recent studies appear to bear this lack of accountability out.

The police filed a false report.

As required by law, the police officers involved in the incident filed a police report. However, the report appears to be a complete work of fiction. While the report has not yet been released to the public, many reputable news agencies have seen it. The contents of the report call into question the candor, character and honesty of the officers who wrote the report.

According to NBC News, the report does not mention that officers kicked and beat Nichols; rather, it “portrays [Tyre Nichols] as violent and aggressive and states that he tried to grab an officer’s gun.” The bodycam footage released to the public does not show any of this.

Specifically, the report states: “Suspect Tyre Nichols was refusing a lawful detention by a law enforcement officers and he started to fight with detectives. Detectives noticed that suspect Tyre Nichols was sweating profusely and irate when he exited the vehicle. Detectives gave verbal commands to stop resisting and then the suspect Tyre Nichols grabbed for Detective Martin’s gun.”

We have all seen the footage and know that none of these things happened. So why did police officers write something that is so fraudulent and bears almost no relation to what actually happened?

Image courtesy of Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons

The Lancet study shows that the majority of deaths from police violence go unreported.

The Lancet is one of the most respected, peer-reviewed health and medical journals in the world. In a 2021 study, The Lancet looked at fatal police violence in the United States between the years 1980 and 2019. This study compared data from the USA National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) to statistics from three databases on police violence. Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence and The Counted all provided data to the study. These are all open-source and non-governmental. The Lancet’s researchers then broke down the information into age, sex, US state of death, year of date and race and ethnicity.

The report found that there were approximately 30,800 deaths at the hands of law enforcement. This is significantly more than the 16,600 reported by the official NVSS. In fact it is more than double the official count. In addition, the Lancet determined that the largest groups of victims were non-Hispanic Black people, followed by Hispanic people. This shows that Black and Hispanic people are more likely to be victims of police violence than any other group of people across all ages, education levels and income.

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sees this as “two things are converging here: increased police violence (with decreased reporting) colliding with police culture that is ingrained with systemic racism.” The results of The Lancet report appear to bear this out.

A new Washington Post report shows this trend continuing.

The Washington Post has also been conducting its own investigation into fatal police shootings. This study has looked at them since 2015. During 2022, police shot and killed 1,096 people, the highest yearly total for such incidents. In addition, the policed killed 1,905 Black Americans since 2015, the largest group of the total 8,166 fatal incidents during that period.

The findings are in line with those of The Lancet study. Clearly, there are more people killed by police than officially reported. Moreover, of those who were killed by police action, the majority of the victims were Black or Hispanic. Under these circumstances, the murder of Tyre Nichols was shocking but not surprising. Moreover, the decision of the police to file a false report fits into a greater pattern of law enforcement underreporting or misidentifying killings of civilians.

Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

The fraudulent police report in the Tyre Nichols murder is not the exception.

Based on the body cam and surveillance footage from Jan. 7, the police officers who wrote the report of the incident made numerous false statements about what occurred. What appears in the report bares little relation to the facts. The reason for this appears to be the mistaken belief that they would never be held accountable for the lies. It appears that those involved thought they could get away with their involvement in the murder.

More than half of police killings over the last four decades were never properly reported to NVSS. This is the official database for such incidents. Since the brutal beating of motorist Rodney King in 1991, practically every incident involving police violence and use of lethal force has been captured on film. This was either through surveillance footage, police bodycams or members of the public filming the incident.

For example, a bystander captured the murder of George Floyd on her smartphone. That means that for over three-quarters of the period covered by The Lancet report, law enforcement officers knew or should have known that their actions were being captured on film. Nevertheless, in a majority of cases, the police filed reports that materially misstated the actual facts of the incidents in question, namely that a civilian had been killed by a police officer.

Ultimately, instances like these will continue to be inevitable until something changes.

Studies have shown that Black and Hispanic individuals have more to fear from police than other citizens. The Lancet report showed that Black individuals are more likely than any other group to be the victim of lethal force from law enforcement. This is regardless of age, income or education. This contrasts with Non-Hispanic White individuals, where the victims of police violence tend to be younger, less educated and economically disadvantaged.

In this context, the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers was an inevitable tragedy. It is just the latest in a long line of lethal force incidents involving the police and a Black person. The names of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor immediately spring to mind.

The fact that Tyre Nichols fell victim to police violence and that the police officers felt emboldened to file a fictitious report about the incident is not surprising. What is surprising and hopefully a sign of the future is the swift response from Memphis in firing the police officers and EMTs involved, as well as the decision to prosecute five of the officers for the second degree murder of Tyre Nichols. Hopefully, this tragedy, as well as the reports from The Lancet and the Washington Post, will reduce the use of lethal force by law enforcement, especially in incidents involving Black and Hispanic people.

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