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Memphis Murder Rise After Nichols Death Mirrors National Trend

When Memphis authorities charged several police officers in the death of Tyre Nichols and released footage of the incident in January, Police Chief C. J. Davis promised that the Memphis Police Department would change while still keeping residents safe. The early results are not encouraging. In March, Memphis saw 40 murders, likely the city’s highest tally ever, says data analyst Jeff Asher. That’s a big jump over figures of 20 and 22 in January and February, respectively. Something has changed, but it’s that Memphians are less safe, reports The Atlantic. The spike in murder should not come as a total surprise. It fits the pattern established elsewhere after highly publicized killings by police officers. Seeing it recur in Memphis, where officers were swiftly fired and charged with crimes, suggests that though leaders are getting better at their immediate response to such incidents, they have not solved the larger challenges.

The spike is especially heartbreaking in Memphis, where residents have long experienced the painful combination of both over-policing and under-policing: People, especially Black ones, feel harassed by police for minor offenses, yet they don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. Now, after Tyre Nichols’s killing, a particularly egregious instance of over-policing, police are even less effective at preventing violence. A surge in violence frequently follows a highly publicized instance of police brutality. After long-running demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, murder ticked up nationwide. Homicide rates rose in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and in Chicago after the release of videos showing police fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. Criminologists have pointed to the massive nationwide protests over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 as an inflection point. Soon after, violent crime and murder went up nationwide. Although they seem to have turned back down, levels are still well above pre-2020 levels. Experts haven’t established a clear explanation for the phenomenon. Perhaps people are less likely to trust the police, and opt to settle disputes on their own or don’t report crimes. In the immediate aftermath of an incident, especially when mass protests erupt, officers are absorbed with managing demonstrations. Then over time, they simply police less. Some evidence suggests that police have pulled back recently in Memphis.


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