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Nichols Death Confirms Black Memphis Residents' Fear Of Police

In one way, the death of Tyre Nichols brings vindication to members of the Black community in Memphis who live in constant fear of the police. The fatal beating of Nichols, 29, by five police officers tells the story many residents know by heart: that any encounter, including traffic stops, can be deadly if you’re Black, the Associated Press reports. Examples abound of Black residents, primarily young men, targeted by police. Some are in official reports. Anyone you talk to has a story. Even casual discussions in a coffee shop produce multiple examples. A homeowner who called the police because a young man who had been shot was on his front porch. The responding officers ignored the gunshot victim and entered the caller’s home. The caller was slammed to the ground and a chemical agent used on him. The officers then lied about the circumstances, but there was video.


A woman who lives in a “safe” northeast Memphis neighborhood says her 18-year-old son was hogtied and pepper-sprayed by police several years ago –- while she was with him. He became agitated after police arrived on the scene while he picked up his child from a girlfriend, triggering a mental health crisis, she said. In police sweeps, unmarked cars roll into neighborhoods and armed plainclothes officers jump out, rushing traffic violators and issuing commands. The result is a community in fear, where people text, call and use social media to caution each other to stay inside or avoid the area when police operations are underway. “There’s one type of law enforcement that keeps people safe, and then there’s a type of law enforcement that keeps people in check,” said Joshua Adams, 29, who grew up in south Memphis’ Whitehaven, home to Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion, now a mostly Black neighborhood. If you are in the wrong neighborhood “it really doesn’t matter whether you’re part of the violence or not,” said Adams. “I’m less likely to be shot in a gang conflict than I am to be shot by police.” In 2021, the year the SCORPION unit – a specialty squad that all five officers were part of -- was set up, homicides hit a record, breaking one set in 2020. Homicides dropped in 2022 but high-profile cases kept crime in the news. Most of the victims were young Black men. In the cases where arrests have been made, the suspects were overwhelmingly Black.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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