Memphis Police Department’s Handling of the Tyre Nichols Killing Could Provide a Blueprint for Avoiding Riots

AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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The killing of Tyre Nichols has become another prominent controversy ever since video footage showing five police officers beating him after a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, was released. The 29-year-old man died in the hospital three days later and the officers involved have been charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses.

The footage showing the assault elicited outrage from all over the country.

So far, there have been no riots in response to Nichols’ killing. There have been vigorous protests, and some individuals have been arrested. But nothing close to what we saw after the murder of George Floyd.

In the lead-up to the release of the footage, major cities across the country prepared for unrest. Some on the right have accused the media of hyping up the video in order to foment riots for ratings. But other than some isolated incidents, violence has not broken out.

The question is: Why?

Some have speculated that the reason why there are no riots is because the five officers who beat Nichols were all black, which makes it harder for progressives to push a white supremacy narrative. Of course, that has not stopped them from trying.

But progressives have long maintained that police brutality against black Americans is the product of a white supremacist system regardless of the ethnicity of the officers who engage in it. They could have easily incited widespread violence, even if the law enforcement officials in question were nonwhite.

I think the answer lies in how the Memphis Police Department handled the situation. Shortly after the incident took place on Jan. 7, the department immediately relieved the officers of their duties, while it conducted an investigation into their conduct. After two weeks, the investigation concluded that the five men should be charged, and later in the week, the footage was released.

The fact that the police department released the footage less than a month after the incident occurred is notable because in days past, it could take months for the public to see these videos. Moreover, they released the footage after they had already taken action to rectify the situation, which almost certainly went a long way toward calming down tensions. In this case, they were able to show the public that they took the issue seriously despite the abhorrent nature of the officers’ actions.

Of course, this is no guarantee that nobody will engage in violence. Indeed, these situations can often turn into powder kegs – especially if the activist media is sensationalizing the matter. But the timeliness of the police department’s actions seemed tailored to ensure justice, while also dampening tensions in the street.

The protests will likely continue over the weekend, as more people see the video and speak out on the matter. Moreover, as more facts emerge, there will be more questions raised regarding the conduct of the officers and the unit to which they belonged. Indeed, it has already come out that the Scorpion unit that these officers were a part of had at least two complaints lodged against them for their aggressive conduct. The department may have done its job in the release of the video, but there could also be accountability related to the lack of action on this front.

Nevertheless, the Memphis Police Department may have given a blueprint for how these situations should be handled. Moving swiftly to address police brutality is not only a way to promote accountability in law enforcement, it also sends a message to the community.


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