Here we go again.
One cannot be blamed for avoiding the footage of the murderous beating issued to Memphis barber Tyre Nichols by members of that city’s elite police unit. His own mother couldn’t. It’s brutal and unforgiving, one of the worst examples of Death by Cop to arise in the body-camera era.
We’ve seen it so many times before. But this go-round, a couple things are different.
For one, the cops who murdered Nichols are Black. This is not as significant as it seems on the surface. As the Nichols’ family lawyer Benjamin Crump said, the race of the police officers does not matter as much as the race of the victim, which is invariably Black — or, at least, not-white.
In this case, police body-camera footage of the murder came out relatively quickly: three full weeks after it happened, which is outrageous, but a quicker turnaround than we usually get at times like this. It took almost three months for us to see footage of Marcus Smith’s death at the hands of Greensboro police. And we didn’t know about the killing of John Neville at the Forsyth County Jail until six months after it happened; footage came months after that.
And while the initial police press release about the abduction of Nichols is most noteworthy for its sensational omission of the two-stage beating that officers laid on him, release of the video
was not prefaced by a police spokesmodel framing the footage in a way favorable to the department at a press conference. Off the bat, it seems, Memphis officials knew just how bad this looked, if not necessarily how bad it actually is. What the people heard in advance was less public relations and more of a plea not to burn the whole city down, and to mitigate the anticipated demonstrations which came, this time, as surely as the rain.
Also: Every cop on the scene that night has been taken off the street for now. Six from the Memphis Police Department were suspended and charged with second-degree murder; two officers with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department were “relieved of duty” on Monday after their involvement that night was revealed.
Here the race of the officers does seem relevant. Would they have been charged with murder if they were white?
When the smoke clears, we will see if they become wandering cops, staying in law enforcement to terrorize people in a new location, or if their crimes will follow them like they would anyone else.
We have not yet heard from the Blue Lives Matter folks in this case. Care to take a guess as to why that is?We gather from all this that the Memphis PD is working hard to make it seem like this time is different. That, we suppose, is something. But whether any real change results from the violent, excruciating death of Tyre Nichols remains to be seen.
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