Calls for police reform resurface after ex-officers charged federally in Tyre Nichols’ killing

Democratic lawmakers revive calls to pass the George Floyd Justice Policing Act that failed to gain Senate approval in 2021

Tyre Nichols’ family and residents of Memphis, Tennessee, are demanding that two outcomes emerge from the brutal beating by city police officers that killed the Black father earlier this year.

Residents expect prosecutors to secure convictions against the five former Memphis officers charged in the 29-year-old’s death, while they also expect that the police department reforms how it interacts with marginalized communities, lawyer Sue Ann Robinson told theGrio.

“That’s what ensures Tyre Nichols’ life [and] George Floyd’s life are not taken in vain. There needs to be actual change as opposed to another hashtag,” said Robinson, an attorney with Ben Crump Law and founder of the Frontline Firm.

The law firm of noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing the Nichols family.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the five former detectives, who are all Black, on multiple civil rights charges, as well as conspiracy to witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The detectives — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Justin Smith and Emmitt Martin — also face second-degree murder and other charges at the state level.

Each has pleaded not guilty to their roles in Nichols’ violent arrest and death in January.

“It doesn’t matter what color the officer is — police brutality and excessive force has more to do with police culture and the way officers are trained to interact with minority communities,” Robinson said. “If they’ve succumbed to or been trained in modern-day police culture, the result is going to be abuse of marginalized citizens.”

Tyre Nichols
This photo provided by the Nichols family shows Tyre Nichols, who had a passion for photography and was described by friends as joyful and lovable. (Photo: Courtesy of the Nichols family via AP)

On January 7, five Memphis police officers severely battered Nichols during a traffic stop. Police bodycam and surveillance footage shows that officers assaulted him and disregarded his need for medical attention. Nichols died of his injuries in a hospital three days later.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland echoed the demands of Memphis residents, telling theGrio on Friday, after the federal indictments were returned, that Nichols’ case proves the need for legislation to combat police brutality.   

“We had a whole range of reforms that came up in the summer of 2020 that were pushed by the Congressional Black Caucus and they made it through the House, then hit a brick wall in the Senate,” Raskin said. “We should go back to all of those reforms.”

In 2021, Democratic lawmakers proposed the George Floyd Justice Policing Act following the death of George Floyd, a Black father who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest the previous year.

This combination of images provided by the Memphis, Tenn., Police Department shows, from top row from left, Police Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. (Memphis Police Department via AP, File)

The act aimed to combat police misconduct, racial bias and excessive force, however the bill failed in the Senate and was not enacted into law.

Following House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ weekly press conference on Thursday, he told theGrio, that House Democrats are working on statutes to combat police brutality nationwide. 

“I had a meeting earlier this week with Chairman Horsford and the CBC remains committed to trying to move legislation that strengthens the relationship between the police and the community,” he said.

Jeffries added that the CBC is also committed to addressing “the injustices that we’ve seen occur” and improving public safety. 

“We’re in continuing conversations with Senate Democrats to find a path forward,” he concluded.

Robinson told theGrio, “I think the repair starts with real accountability. It starts with sovereign immunity being taken away which is a judicially created block to police liability.”

“If the CBC really has this commitment [to combat police brutality] they need to focus on those things and [push forward] the George Floyd Justice Act,” she added. 

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