Editorial: The Unjust Murder of Tyre Nichols
By Sophia Alexandrou
On January 7, Tyre Nichols was stopped by police officers for an alleged driving offense. Three days later on January 10, he was pronounced dead in the hospital. The events in between these two dates highlight yet another instance of the racist and overly powerful system that is American law enforcement.
After the officers stopped him, they pulled Nichols out of his car, pepper sprayed, and tasered him. Though he managed to escape and run away after this, the officers caught up to him and battered him for another three minutes. The bodycam footage and autopsy reports have since been open to the public, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and United States Department of Justice have opened investigations into police misconduct. The autopsy report found “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating” and the bodycam footage found an even more disturbing image.
The officers continued to yell commands at Nichols. They got angry with him when he followed these commands, and got even more angry when the physical restraints to which they subjected him made it impossible to do so. He made several attempts to verbally assure the officers that he would follow their instructions, but they did not care. They continued to beat and pepper spray him.
The five officers involved in the death of Tyre Nichols were fired and plan to plead not guilty to their second-degree murder charges. The department had already suspended or reprimanded four of the five officers for previous offences.
Though all five officers were black, the main bodycam footage came from a white cop. He was responsible for some of the brutality and verbal abuse of Tyre Nichols and is not being apprehended with the same severity as his black colleagues.
Even disregarding this widely ignored aspect of this tragic episode, the killing of Nichols, while at the hands of black officers, is still an example (albeit a very complicated one) of the United States’ racist policing institution. Regardless of race, as soon as a person dons a badge, they become a part of an institution that began with white patrollers capturing runaway slaves. After this, the police were involved in arresting black people for petty crimes like loitering in order to obtain free prison labor in an emancipated United States. More recently, the police have engaged in the War on Drugs, heavily patrolling black neighborhoods and severely incarcerating its inhabitants for drug possession, a nonviolent crime. The police badge gives its adorner a unique position in so
ciety where they can beat a civilian who poses no threat to the safety of the community or to the officer themselves to death and claim it as an act of self-defense.
American law enforcement was initially created to prevent the liberation of black Americans. It has consistently attempted to find legal loopholes to continue to subject black Americans to oppressive conditions, reminiscent of the era of slavery and Jim Crow. Regardless of who wears that badge, they are upholding this institution. Regardless of if they choose to abuse this power, they are given artillery and the freedom to make a decision about whether they want to use it. The racist foundations of the police force in combination with a system that values power and not accountability is how people like Tyre Nichols die at the hands of those who swore to “serve and protect.” While this may not have been another instance of white-on-black violence, it serves as a reminder that racism is not primarily enforced on an individual level, but a systemic level.