CPE statement on the Police Killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee

January 24 2023

UPDATE:  Today, Jan. 27, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) released bodycam footage that captures, with utter clarity, the brutal manner in which Tyre Nichols was killed by the former MPD officers now charged with second-degree murder. The footage is shocking to the consciousness, horrific to watch, and an alarming reminder of the systemic inequities that we must confront. 

While the arrest of those responsible and the release of bodycam footage are important first steps, the systemic issues remain in place and CPE remains wholly committed to the work of dismantling them. We wish to remind all who seek to honor Tyre Nichols that we can celebrate his life, demand accountability, and do the work so desperately needed for racial justice without consuming images that are by their very nature traumatizing; each of us must make our own decision whether or not to watch the video that documents the savagery with which he was killed. 

UPDATE: Today, Jan. 26, all five of the former Memphis Police officers responsible for the beating death of Tyre Nichols were booked at the Shelby County Jail; each has been charged with one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault-acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and one count of official oppression. The Memphis Police Department is expected to release bodycam footage of the incident tomorrow, Jan. 27. CPE applauds these indictments and joins with all those close to Tyre Nichols in seeking accountability, but wishes also to note that neither firings, charges, nor eventual trials will serve to heal the immense trauma now carried by his family, loved ones, and community. Rather, these charges represent a critical step toward the kind of accountability that is foundational to redesigning public safety across the country. As Nichols' killing demonstrates with painful clarity, we are in urgent need of genuinely new approaches to traffic safety, traffic stops, and public safety more broadly, particularly in Black and Brown communities that live with burdensome policing practices and are persistently deprived of the resources they need not only to stay safe but to thrive.

On Jan. 7, officers with the Memphis, TN Police Department (MPD) pulled 29-year-old Tyre Nichols over for "reckless driving." After what officers called a "confrontation," Nichols attempted to run away; officers maintain that there was a second "confrontation" prior to his arrest.

At the moment we do not know the nature of these "confrontations," but we do know their outcome: Tyre Nichols was subsequently taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died of his injuries on Jan. 10. MPD announced last Friday, Jan. 20, that the five officers involved had been fired; Nichols' family has since viewed their bodycam footage and agreed to allow the department up to two more weeks to release it publicly.

Such videos are crucial to holding police accountable when they do egregious harm, but CPE remains mindful that they also re-traumatize those closest to the person whose life was taken, along with that person's broader community. Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, was unequivocal: “What I saw in the video today was horrific. No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.” We stand with Tyre Nichols' family and loved ones, forced to relive the horrors of those three days and, soon, to grapple with the public responses to video evidence of the brutality that ultimately killed him.

CPE acknowledges the appropriate speed with which Chief of Police Cerelyn “CJ” Davis terminated the officers' employment with MPD, and the decision of the FBI's Memphis Field Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the MPD officers involved. Only with due diligence, thoroughness, and true transparency will those responsible be held to account for these terrible events.

We wish also to directly address the fact that everyone involved in this ghastly story—victim, officers, and police chief—is Black. Some will insist that this fact absolves MPD and American policing more broadly of systemic racism, but when these arguments inevitably surface, we must not be distracted. CPE's concern has never been with the hearts and minds of individual officers or chiefs. We engage in rigorous data science to help reduce structural factors at the root of racially disparate policing outcomes, toward the goal of achieving safe communities, racial justice, and Black liberation. 

Traffic stops are one of the most frequent points of contact between police and the public. Our work has demonstrated unequivocally that Black people are pulled over, searched, and violently attacked at rates entirely disproportionate to their numbers in U.S. society. 

This is a result of law enforcement policies, procedures, and culture that are shaped by White supremacy. Any officer working in such a system risks finding themselves engaged in behavior that is racist in nature, even if they do not, personally, hold racist beliefs or are themselves, Black. While we support the firing of the five officers whose brutality killed Tyre Nichols and call for a rigorous investigation, we will continue to shine a light on the racist systems, structures, and culture that stand behind the horrific events of Jan. 7.

We send our heartfelt condolences to all who mourn Tyre Nichols, and our wishes for peace and healing. CPE remains wholly committed to advancing the work of racial equity, toward a future in which such losses will no longer have to be endured.