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Nichols Case Sparks New Round of Debate, Demonstrations

Fallout from the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers continued on multiple fronts, as the Memphis Police Department shut down the former officers' unit, demonstrators hit the streets in cities nationwide and the recurring debate over police reform got its second wind. Friday evening's release of body-worn camera and street surveillance videos of the Jan. 7 arrest of the 29-year-old motorist, who died three days later, filled in many details of the prolonged pummeling of the unarmed Nichols, and an agonizingly slow medical response, but did not explain why police stopped his car in the first place, the Washington Post reports. One day after Police Chief Cerelyn Davis defended the "good work" overall of the Scorpion hot-spots patrol unit that she created in 2021, she disbanded the unit amid a general review of all of the department's specialized units. Throughout the weekend, demonstrators marched through Memphis, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, among other cities, calling for an end to abuses of authority, CNN reports.

Questions of race hover over the case in complicated ways. Memphis is a predominantly Black city with a history of Black police chiefs, including Davis. All five fired officers, who are charged with second-degree murder and other crimes, are Black, as was Nichols. But the city has a historically antagonistic relationship with its police dating back decades, MLK50 reported in a compilation of stories on the subject. While police critics say the race of the officers only emphasizes how entrenched racism is in policing, right-wing media repeated tropes that blame Black America's maladies on Black America, the Washington Post reports. Beyond narrow questions about the officers' tactics and competence, which NPR quoted experts as saying were rife with mistakes, the case reflects a shift in how quickly authorities move in response to police violence and reignited calls to move police-reform legislation through a divided Congress. And beyond the particulars of any federal bill, which will face strong headwinds in a Republican House, the Nichols case suggests to some that the national reckoning on race and policing that the 2020 George Floyd case began can now return to prominence, the Associated Press reports. “The world is watching us,” said Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, whose office swiftly brought charged the Memphis officers. “If there is any silver lining to be drawn from this very dark cloud, it’s that perhaps this incident can open a broader conversation about the need for police reform.” Much the same was said in 2020, after which states approved nearly 300 police reform bills creating civilian oversight of police, more anti-bias training, stricter use-of-force limits and alternatives to arrests in cases involving people with mental illnesses, according to a recent analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland. “Changing a rule doesn’t change a behavior,” said Katie Ryan, chief of staff for Campaign Zero, a group of academics, policing experts and activists working to end police violence. “The culture of a police department has to shift into actually implementing the policies, not just saying there’s a rule in place.”


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