Here’s What a Former Black NYC Cop Thinks of the Tyre Nichols Case

Photo:  Memphis Police Department via AP (AP)
Photo: Memphis Police Department via AP (AP)

As told to by Kalyn Womack:

I worked for the NYPD for 20 years before I retired and I’m often asked to comment on these cases - where the public believes the racial bias imbedded in policing had led to the ruthless killing of an innocent Black man. In the tragedy of Tyre Nichols, it’s unclear whether racist police training was the concern.

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In fact, after reviewing the body camera footage, a few missing pieces lead me to believe the training was not the problem but instead the people who signed up for the job.

Initial Reactions to Body Cam Footage

I wonder what happened prior to that portion of the video where the conflict begins. What makes me think that something beyond the initial confrontation may have happened is because the officers were already very, very animated. I believe that there’s something else that happened for them to start this encounter at this level.

Then, they became even more animated when Nichols began to run. People say he ran from the police because he was scared. Critics say he made himself look more suspicious. When you flee the scene, as an officer, my level of suspicion goes up. You’re fleeing the scene for a reason.

What is that reason?

In so many of these cases, I see folks are fleeing the scene. Don’t run. Generally speaking, if you don’t run, your chances of being safe increases - and if you comply with what the officers are telling you to do. In this case, I could almost understand why he did run like, “Yo, get off of me.”

Now, because you ran doesn’t mean you should be beaten to death or that you are automatically guilty of committing some severe crime. Though, in order to reduce these types of incidents from happening, under different circumstances, you put yourself in a better position if you don’t run and just comply.

Crooked Tactics by Memphis Police

Every precinct is different but if we were to talk about basic tactics, these officers missed the mark in some areas.

Take for example the issuance of commands which in this case were a lot of commands all at the same time. If I’m yelling at you to get down and another officer is telling you don’t move and then the next officer is saying show me your hands - which one of these things should someone comply with? Then, when you answer one officer’s order and not the other, you look like you’re not complying. It’s always better practice tactically that one person gives the commands.

There also should have been one person to deescalate the situation. I don’t know what the Memphis Police Department procedures are, but when there’s an incident like this normally, you would get a supervisor there to keep things from getting out of hand. From of the body camera footage I saw, I don’t believe that I saw any supervisor there nor did I hear any radio transmissions from a supervisor. That was a little strange to me.

Then, after the cops were already riled up, and they caught up to Nichols after he fled, none of their behavior was called for - the punching, the hitting with the baton. I don’t think any of that was called for. The use of pepper spray and tasers are generally used as alternatives to actually putting your hands on somebody or even going to the next step which is your firearm.

Now, if someone is saying to you that you’re under arrest and you’re not complying and the officer uses pepper spray, generally that’s not something that’s frowned upon if that person is not complying. But in this case, the officers started on ten so it’s hard to determine what happened prior to that, if anything, that led to this level of force being used.

I’m not saying that in every case, folks use non lethal weapons appropriately. But I mean, between four to five officers, you should be able to detain a person without used non lethal weapons, plus their hands and feet.

Lastly, you should be calling for medical aid immediately and trying to assist that person through their injuries until proper medical personnel arrive. In those twenty minutes wasted, Nichols could have been given a chance at life.

Racial Bias in Policing

Being five Black officers were involved in the brutal beating of another Black man, people have been debating about racial bias in policing. Does it count as racist if the cops were Black? Is there racial bias in our society?

Yes - that would be my answer. Police are no different than the rest of society. If racial bias exists throughout our entire society then it definitely exists within our police departments as well. Say in this case it was five white officers. I believe that most people automatically say, “Oh it was racial. That’s what history shows me and tells me because I’ve seen that before.” To be fair, there have absolutely been some incidents where a white officer did something I may have said to myself, “Wow. That was racial.”

To me, that doesn’t mean that every incident where the white officer does something inappropriate to a person of color is racially biased. I think when we assume that’s the case we’re doing ourselves a disservice by misunderstanding what was really the problem.

At some point, you can’t blame “racist training” anymore. Accountability has to be put on the individuals responsible. In this case, I put the blame on the individual officers who committed this crime. You can have all the training in the world and still go out and do something terrible. You can always say, “Oh I could have had better training.” You can always suggest racial bias and diversity training modules. But when is it ever good enough? When officers never commit another terrible act? Is that ever gonna happen? I doubt it.

A lot of these incidents you can’t really prove was a result of racism with evidence. It’s just someone’s emotion. I think Tyre Nichols’ case seemed racial because we have so much tension between the police and Black community right now. I think it should encourage us to ponder what police reform should really look like.

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