January 27, 2023
Maryland NOW members watched along with millions in this country the horrific video of the latest example of violence and overreach on the part of police officers resulting in the beating and death of Tyre Nichols, in Memphis, Tennessee in early January.
Mapping Police Violence, a watchdog group, estimates an average of three people died each day in 2022 as a result of police violence, and deaths at the hands of police officers have been increasing, not decreasing, since the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
In 2020, the Brennan Center for Justice released a study reflecting the effects of online recruitment of candidates for policing work by right-wing groups noting a link between these recruitment efforts and a rise in violence by police. In many cases this violence reflects white supremacist and far-right militant bias, and has been on law enforcement’s radar for quite some time, mirroring research done over the past twenty years noting these trends. Unfortunately, efforts by lawmakers to pass legislation addressing this problem have not been even marginally successful.
Perhaps most terrifying is that reform efforts are going in the wrong direction as evidenced in the death of Tyre Nichols. The five officers charged with his murder, following what appears to have been a routine traffic stop, were between the ages of 27 and 32 and had joined the police force since 2017.
Our state is no stranger to police brutality. Police officers are charged to enforce the law, not to act as judge and jury for those they apprehend as possible offenders. Many argue that the excessive police brutality being documented on film over the past ten to fifteen years reflects increased access to and use of video cameras in that time, rather than an increase in police use of excessive force. However, while bystanders’ videos have had a huge impact, body cam footage is only available in about 30% of cases involving such violence by police.
As advocates for women’s rights, we are encouraged to see the city of Memphis addressing the brutal treatment of Tyre Nichols and his resulting death much more aggressively and quickly than has been done in other such shows of excessive police force. The officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder, and all were jailed (although all have posted bond and are again walking Memphis’ streets). This scenario where such quick action has been taken is unprecedented in the way these situations have been handled in the past.
The Chief of Police for the Memphis Police Department is a woman, Cerelyn J. Davis, who is Memphis’ first female and Black female chief, having been sworn in as chief in 2021. Certainly, involving more women in positions of authority in directing law enforcement could be crucial as we look for answers.
The Executive Committee of Maryland NOW
German, Michael. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement.” August 20, 2020. Brenan Center for Justice. //Our Work//Research and Reports//. Online.
The work of the organization, “Mapping Police Violence,” appeared in an article published in USA Today Nov 20, 2022.
Moreno-Rivera, Finesse, “Police kill far too many people during traffic stops. We must change why stops are made.” USA Today, Nov 20, 2022. Online.