The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday it is investigating how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests, nearly seven months after the violent beating of Tyre Nichols by five officers after a traffic stop strengthened nationwide calls for police reform, the Associated Press reports. The in-depth federal probe adds more scrutiny to a city dealing with the aftermath of Nichols’ killing and answers long-standing calls for such an investigation from critics of the way police treat minorities. Federal authorities will look collectively at the Memphis Police Department’s “pattern or practice” of force and stops, searches and arrests, and whether it engages in discriminatory policing.
Even in the majority Black city of Memphis, the police department may be disproportionately focusing its traffic enforcement on Black drivers, said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division, who announced the investigation. Clarke said the Department of Justice has received reports of officers escalating encounters with people in the community and using excessive force; using force punitively when they perceive someone’s behavior as insolent; and using force against people who are already restrained or in custody. She mentioned Nichols’ death, but said the investigation is not based on a single event, or a single unit with the police agency. Caught on police video, the beating of the 29-year-old Nichols was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.