How many Black Americans have to die at the hands of the police before Congress passes the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act? For decades, we’ve witnessed acts by law enforcement that are so brutal and senseless that writers like me, with three Black sons between my husband and me, wonder if we shouldn’t get on the first plane to anywhere but here and drag our young men with us.
In the wake of the savage fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing Nichols’ family, says it’s time for Congress to act.
“Shame on us if we don’t use his tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed,” Crump said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.
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The legislation—named after George Floyd, a Black man who died in 2020 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine-and-a-half minutes, choking Floyd to death—was sponsored by Democrats such as Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass. It passed twice in the House, but failed in the Senate.
The bill would address a slew of policing issues. “It increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements,” the bill reads in part.
Friday, videos of Nichols being beaten by police were released to the public. The 29-year-old was repeatedly shocked, pepper-sprayed, punched, and kicked by police. Three days following the beating, he died.
The five Memphis police officers who beat and killed Nichols were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping, The Washington Post reported. All five were members of SCORPION, or “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods,” a police unit launched in 2021 and championed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
SCORPION was formed to address the city’s crime with a focus on felony crimes such as homicides and assaults. Saturday, the Memphis Police Department announced in a public statement that the unit would be “permanently deactivated.”
"In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignment, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit,” the department said in a statement Saturday.
Additionally, the statement reads: “the officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step. While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted.”
John Miller, CNN’s chief law enforcement analyst, says that while the unit was formed to address high violent crime rates, there can be problems with these kinds of militarized forces.
“The problems may lie in three key places: Did they receive specific, tailored training in de-escalation and how to manage events from spinning up too fast? In the selection process, beyond choosing officers who had records of making gun arrests, did they look at their civilian complaint history, use of force histories, and talk with their former supervisors about their fit for this kind of work? Finally, supervision,” he said.
Last week, Daily Kos’ Aysha Qamar covered Nichols’ beating and the five officers charged: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith. Following their arrest, a man spoke out about another violent incident involving one of the five officers.
According to a 2016 lawsuit, Cordarius Sledge was serving a three-year sentence for aggravated assault in 2015 when two corrections officers beat him for having a contraband cellphone. He named Haley as one of the officers involved in his assault.
Sledge told NBC News he was taken into the shower area to be strip-searched. He attempted to run to hide the cell phone.
“That’s when they started punching on me,” he said. “They picked me up and slammed my head into the sink, and I blacked out.”
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Crump says he hopes that Nichols’ death will be the final straw in significant changes in American policing.
Citing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Crump said, “I can’t stop a man from hating me, but the law can stop a man from killing a man.”
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of the measure, “It had many elements in it that are important … It’s necessary that we do all these things, but not sufficient. It’s the right starting point. We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional and humane way.”
In the last few days, the Nichols family has raised over $1 million in donations.
RowVaughn Wells, Tyre Nichols’ mother, launched a GoFundMe to raise money to build a skatepark in Nichols’ memory and to cover the cost of mental health treatment for herself after the loss of her son.