Tyre Nichols (29) viciously and mortally beaten by 5 Memphis cops on 7 January 2023. As he was being beaten, he called out to his mother 3 times, with no effect on those beating him. Tyre died in a hospital, three days later.
Police officer: A member of a law enforcement agency who has been well trained, does not abuse his/her authority, does not use excessive force, does his/her job in a lawful manner, respects ALL persons, promptly renders aid when needed, and lives up to the police motto of “Protect and Serve”.
Cop: A criminal with a badge who acts with a sense of impunity in violation of some or all of the established and accepted standards of conduct for police officers.
Tyre was stopped for reasons that have not been established (supposedly “reckless driving”); although no supporting evidence has been found. Upon being stopped, he immediately, aggressively and abusively, was pulled from his car. He was compliant; yet he was yanked around and repeatedly pepper sprayed.
Tyre managed to escape his attackers and ran toward his mother’s house. About 80 yards from her home, Tyre was apprehended again, and brutally, viciously beaten. He again was pepper sprayed repeatedly. While being held down, an officer repeatedly kicked him in the head. Another repeatedly hit him with a baton. Two officers stood him up and held him while a 3rd officer repeatedly hit him in the face, chest and stomach. Apparently unconscious, he was dragged to and leaned against a police car. These are the bare bones facts, all caught on multiple police video cameras.
For approximately 20 minutes, officers milled around; looking at him but not rendering him any aid. Other persons who were not police officers also were milling around until an ambulance finally arrived. During this time, police cams caught the 5 officers talking to get their stories together to defend themselves against the indefensible—wantonly effectively beating a man to death. The five have been charged with several crimes, including 2nd degree murder.
At least 1186 people were killed by police in 2022 according to Mapping Police Violence (https://mappingpoliceviolence.us/)
After the vicious beating of Rodney King was filmed in 1991, many people thought there would be meaningful changes in policing. Training would be improved. Police would be held more accountable for abusing their authority, especially beatings and unjustified shootings. It didn’t happen.
The nation watched as Derek Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck, smiling as George gasped “I can’t breathe” and died (25 May 2020). National outrage followed, and the belief was real changes would be made to prevent cops from cold bloodily murdering people. It didn’t happen.
On 12 June 2020 Rayshard Brooks was killed, shot in the back, while fleeing police. His crime? Sleeping in his car in a fast food parking lot. The Atlanta officers who murdered him were not tried for their crimes.
Some may have thought integrating police departments would lead to better treatment of our ethnic minorities. There have been expressions of surprise the murderers of Tyre all were African American. The expectation of many had been African American officers would be more respectful of their African American brothers and sisters.
But, here in the Rio Grande Valley, we know better. This is not taught in Valley schools as it should be. However, in the late 1970’s, the McAllen Police Department C-Shift had a reputation of police brutality; some of which was caught on video. The cops ethnicity? Predominately Mexican American.
I lived in Atlanta when the Atlanta Police Department became fully integrated. There had been token “officers” since 1948, but they could not carry pistols, and could not arrest people. For all practical purposes the department was lily white until the number of African Americans officers was increased significantly from less than 10. I talked with an African American friend about how good it was the department finally was integrating. He was incredulous, stating emphatically things would be even worse for African Americans because the African American officers recruited would have a disposition to violence against African Americans, and would seek to prove themselves to white officers that they would be as tough as the white officers.
The point here is not to bash police. Most police officers, the vast majority of our police officers do their jobs as defined above. But, we have problems we absolutely must address if we are going to stop cops’ abuses of authority that have gone on for over 2 centuries, since the origination of police in the U.S.
First we must understand the original purposes of the police. They were to hunt down run away slaves. Once captured, beating them into submission, even killing them was perfectly fine. Police, in effect, had a “license to kill”. With the massive influx of immigrants in the early 20th century, in our urban areas, the purpose of police was to keep the riff raff, recent immigrants, at the bottom of the food chain, by whatever means the police deemed appropriate. With the growth of union organizing, police were tasked with busting the heads of union organizers and union members. This occurred in our industrialized cities.
Meanwhile, in the South, a major responsibility of police was to “keep the nigger in his place”; which they did in numerous ways. These included being actively involved in beatings, shootings, lynchings, and turning a blind eye to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan; an organization to which many police officers belonged.
The history of police violence in the U.S. is long and brutal.
THANKFULLY, policing has evolved tremendously since then; especially over the last 50 or 60 years. Police have become better trained. Recruitment has improved so fewer applicants prone to excessive force are recruited. Rules and regulations have been established, and most officers adhere to them. There is at least some accountability.
Despite the horrors we see being inflicted on some, such as the brutal murders of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols, we should be proud of our police forces. We should be quick to criticize those cops who abuse their authority, and we should demand the be made to answer for their crimes.
But, at the same time we should be quick to praise thos officers who do their jobs appropriately. We should be respectful of and thankful for those officers. Too often, their job is thankless. Too often they take abuse, sometimes vile abuse we seldom are aware of. Yet, they take that abuse and “soldier on”.
Next week, I will try to outline some of the things we need to do to put and end to cops murdering and otherwise abusing fellow members of our society.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Samuel Freeman (pictured above). The column appears in the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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