Tyre Nichols murder shows police culture trumps race

The tragic and brutal murder of Tyre Nichols reminds us of some hard truths; one of them being, police culture, more often than not, trumps race.

Tyre Nichols murder shows police culture trumps race
Pictured are top, from left, former Memphis PD officers Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills and, bottom, from left, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean.

The tragic and brutal murder of Tyre Nichols reminds us of some hard truths; one of them being, police culture, more often than not, trumps race.

Five Black men, employed as Memphis cops, beat Tyre to death in a non-stop, three-minute barrage of brutality that attorney Benjamin Crump said reminded him of the Rodney King beating. But King was brutalized by a clan of white cops, four of whom did the actual beating while the other six-to-eight officers stood guard.

Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols

And in so many cases over the centuries, it has been white officers delivering the beatings and death blows to innocent, unarmed Black and Latinx folk. But over the years, there are always those cases when the offending officer of the law is Latinx, Asian or Black.

The attorneys for Tyre’s family, after watching video footage of Tyre’s encounter with Memphis police said he suffered a “nonstop beating” by cops.

“He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said during a recent news conference.

Some are stunned that such racist mistreatment can be delivered by the hands of officers of color. But what they fail to realize is that belief in the myth of white supremacy has no color. Its practitioners come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and ethnicities. And even though we Blackfolk all know a sister or brother cop or two who treats the citizens they were sworn to “protect and serve” with dignity and humanity, we forget they are the outliers, operating against the grain of police culture, and not with it.

Countless hip-hop artists have described police officers as America’s original gang members; OGs who ride or die for each other, and view anyone not in their clique as the enemy. This Thin Blue Wall that they pledge allegiance to has them regularly turning a blind eye to the brutality their fellow officers inflict on some unsuspecting citizen undeserving of that mistreatment. And on the rare occasions officers do turn on each other, they’re usually after some Black officer has called out a peer for racist behavior. Then, members of the Blue turn on the Black.

But on the daily, the Blue—be they white, Black, Latinx, or Asian—act as one, and adhere to a law enforcement culture that has not only been committed to anti-Blackness but was birthed out of it.

So, why is it a surprise that five brothers, committed to law enforcement’s anti-Black history, legacy and culture, would beat the hell out of Tyre Nichols, or any other Black person?

And the fact that this ungodly Memphis fiasco was generated by a minor traffic violation speaks to history, as well. Blackfolk who most often experience cops as judges, juries and executioners do so after being pulled over for an expired tag, broken taillight or other minor violation. And oftentimes, those minor violations turn out to be false, meaning Blackfolk are often only guilty of driving while Black.

And true to form, according to the Memphis Police Department (MPD) the 29-year-old Nichols was initially pulled over on Jan. 7 for “reckless driving”. Without the benefit of the body cam video of the incident, we don’t know how many, if any, of the officers were in uniform. According to Crump, it is believed that at least some of them were in plain clothes and an unmarked car.

I mention this because authorities say Nichols initially sought to get away from the five brothers who eventually beat him to death.

But you know, anyone who has three-to-five unidentified bruhs rolling up on them is going to be suspicious, worried, fearful or all of the above. Yet blue lives matter folk will surely say, Nichols should have just complied with the police. But “whole-up,” white folk claim they fear for their lives even when elementary-aged little Black girls are in their own neighborhoods saving the environment or selling bottled water on hot summer days. And FYI, both of those examples were real cases when white adults called 5-0 on elementary-aged Black girls and claimed they felt threatened. But when up to five potentially unidentified homies ran up on Tyre, he was suppoed to comply? They can miss me with that.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, (l) with Tyre Nichols' parents Ravaughn Wells and Rodney Wells. Screen Shot.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, (l) with Tyre Nichols’ parents Ravaughn Wells and Rodney Wells. Screen Shot.

So, if Tyre didn’t know they were police, what was he supposed to do? And even if he did know they were police, his reality as a Black man in America informed him that he should still be worried, as pointed out by his stepfather Rodney Wells.

“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” said Wells, Nichols’ stepfather on Monday. “He did not run because he was trying to get rid of no drugs, no guns, no any of that. He ran because he was scared for his life. And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared for his life.”


And speaking of the video, though not yet made public, it was seen by Tyre’s parents. Kind of.

Ravaughn Wells, Tyre’s mother, wasn’t able to make it past the first minute. According to Crump, after she heard her baby ask his attackers, “What did I do” she reached a breaking point.

The others who viewed the footage, Tyre’s stepfather, grandmother and aunt, watched the three-minute video in its entirety only to endure hearing Tyre calling for his mother three times; Tyre “good kid” who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and computers.

In fact, one report states before being pulled over by police, Trye was headed home after committing the heinous “crime” of taking photos of the sunset, which apparently is another thing to add to the list of things we can’t do while Black.

This maddening case is also a reminder that anti-Blackness is not just the sole property of police. Two members of the Memphis Fire Department who were part of Tyre’s “initial patient care” were relieved of duty last week “while an internal investigation is being conducted,” department Public Information Officer Qwanesha Ward told CNN’s Nadia Romero. Since then, the pair has been fired, suggesting they potentially delayed or totally denied providing care to a dying Tyre. Tyre died days later in a hospital.

The aftermath of such lynchings follows the standard police script. First, the community voices outrage.

“Simple traffic stops. You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop. It is appalling. It is deplorable. It is heinous. It is violent. It is troublesome on every level,” said Crump, stating the obvious.


Second, a police department spokesman issues a statement of regret while assuring the citizenry that the actions of the offending officers are abnormal.

“The egregious nature of this incident is not a reflection of the good work that our officers perform, with integrity, every day,” said MPD Chief Cerelyn Davis.


Third, someone suggests the victim got what he or she deserved. This usually comes in the form of public statements by the spokesperson for the local police union/association, words that are then echoed by media outlets that often use the worst possible photo of the victim to hammer home the point that the victim was actually the real “criminal” in this encounter.

A representative of the Memphis Police Association, the union representing the officers, said Memphis and Tyre’s family “deserve to know the complete account of the events leading up to his death and what may have contributed to it.”

And though this statement is way less offensive than the Cleveland Police Union spokesman who literally blamed Tamir Rice’s mother for the police killing of her 12-year-old son, the Memphis message still suggests that Tyre brought the beating on himself via those unseen actions that “may have contributed to” the beating.


I’m not in Memphis, so I don’t know if the next steps have already been implemented. If not, they soon will be. What are they? The standard stuff. Memphis Police officials will commit to providing more training for officers. And they will make themselves available to speak directly to and with “the community” via forums and town halls and such.

But if Tyre’s death was an issue of training, or the lack thereof, police brutality would have ended long ago. And if public relations sessions with the community could free this society from its sin of criminal justice system anti-Blackness, we would have become a “more perfect union” a good minute ago.

The final step, though, is the most important—for all involved. It involves the police continuing with business as usual—the purposeful mistreatment of Black people. And that business is good, regardless of the color of the blue hands initiating it.

But that need not be the final step if we really want this madness to end. But to move in that direction means confronting an entire system of anti-Blackness that only truly practices diversity and inclusion when recruiting agents to unleash that violence all upside our heads.