MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Local leaders and community activists are demanding meaningful change to make sure what happened to Tyre Nichols never happens again.
Protests erupted near and far as they called for action. But we’ve heard similar cries before.
We’ve seen task forces and committees created to discuss police reform and recommendations handed over to the mayor and Memphis police. Will this time be different?
In 2020, George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis sparked days of unrest in Memphis. As a result, Mayor Jim Strickland promised significant policing reform.
He created a Reimagining Policing Advisory Council to figure out what needs to change. A year later, they handed over 13 pages worth of ideas like more community policing, citizens having a hand in hiring officers, and a stronger excessive force policy.
Some ideas were implemented like an online dashboard that would list more information about the officers who get in trouble.
“The ISB dashboard will provide detailed information about excessive force complaints,” Mayor Strickland said when it was released.
The mayor and MPD touted it. They said transparency would build trust. While parts of the dashboard are current, Internal Affairs records haven’t been uploaded since 2021.
The mayor’s office told us it’s working on it.
“It’s 2023, and there’s a lack of updates. If we need certain staff to do that, let us know,” said Memphis Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas.
She said the council “didn’t do it big enough” when they reimagined policing in 2020.
She and other council members are now discussing bigger ideas as police reform, once again, takes center stage at their meetings.
“What do we need to put in place to move this community forward? What do we need to codify from this happening again?” Councilman Martavious Jones asked during the meeting.
Tyre Nichols was just 29 years old when he was pulled over by police on the way to see his mother the night of Jan. 7. Nichols was unarmed and not far from his house.
Cameras captured the officers’ aggressive and disturbing tactics. They used pepper spray, beat him with a baton, punched, and kicked him. MPD’s internal investigation revealed no officer tried to stop it. They didn’t try to help him.
Nichols died three days later in the hospital.
Last week, the council took steps towards enacting change like making the misuse of cameras a disqualifying factor in the police department’s promotional process for two years.
City attorneys warned them to move with caution as state laws and the Memorandum of Understanding with the Memphis Police Association can trump their efforts.
“The council doesn’t have the authority to make decisions on non-economic items. Those are negotiated between the administration and the association,” city attorney Jennifer Sink said.
“We don’t have the direct authority to tell the city’s administration how to conduct their day-to-day business, but we can say this is the will of the council, this is the will of the people, and we want you to act accordingly,” Councilman JB Smiley added.
The council stated it will continue to discuss its ideas like requiring an annual audit of training techniques, clarifying what traffic stops are appropriate, and requiring regular reporting of the traffic stops, arrests, use of force and complaints being made
“What went wrong January 7th?” Councilman Smiley asked Police Chief C.J. Davis during the meeting.
“A lot went wrong on January 7th,” Davis responded in the meeting.
Davis said she will know more when the internal investigation is over. Right now, six officers are fired and at least seven more remain under review.
“I also believe that we have to look at our department to deal with other issues, whether it’s a culture issue,” Chief Davis said on WREG’s Live at 9 last month.
She and Mayor Strickland asked the Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct an external review of use of force and specialized units.
“I think it’s something to keep in mind that it’s not a department or culture that [Chief Davis] created. I think it’s incumbent on her to correct it,” attorney Jake Brown said. He has defended citizens with police complaints.
Correct, change, hold those accountable, and be transparent are the words so many use, time and time again.
MPD’s massive rape kit backlog WREG uncovered in 2010 also drew outrage. The city vowed transparency. They would give monthly updates as the thousands of kits went to the lab and then to the justice system.
Before the work was done, the updates stopped. The council promised to bring them back, but that hasn’t happened.
“That’s the question now,” Brown said. “Is there finally enough pressure on city leaders to acknowledge there’s a problem?”