Death of Tyre Nichols revives calls in Congress for policing reforms

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Protesters rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, outside of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit, Michigan, on January 27, 2023. – The US city of Memphis released January 27, 2023 graphic video footage depicting the fatal police assault of a 29-year-old Black man, as cities nationwide braced for a night of protests against police brutality. Five Memphis officers, also all Black, were charged with second-degree murder in the beating of Tyre Nichols, who died in hospital on January 10 three days after being stopped on suspicion of reckless driving. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Jeff Kowalsky | Afp | Getty Images

After officials in Memphis released graphic footage Friday depicting the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, at the hands of police, members of Congress said Sunday they need to revive their effort to pass substantial police reforms.

The five officers involved in the deadly encounter were charged with murder, kidnapping, assault and other charges on Thursday. All five officers were dismissed from the police department, and the specialized policing unit they were a part of was disbanded Saturday.

Police reform talks fell apart in Congress in 2021 after lawmakers failed to strike a bipartisan deal. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sunday that while passing those reforms would be “the right starting point,” it is ultimately “not enough.”

Durbin said that while he knows law enforcement officers risk their lives for Americans every day, many of these same officers are engaging in “horrible conduct” that needs to be changed for the better.

“What we saw on the streets of Memphis was just inhumane, horrible,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “I don’t know what created this rage in these police officers that they would congratulate themselves for beating a man to death. But that is literally what happened.”

Durbin added that he would not rule out a federal investigation into the entire Memphis Police Department following Nichols’ death.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he thinks that while there is reform that can happen, no amount of legislature could account for the “evil” and “lack of respect for human life” that he saw in the footage. He said he does not believe those five officers represent the vast majority of law enforcement.

“We’ll look at what we think makes sense to help this, to make sure they have the proper training, but no amount of training is going to change what we saw in that video,” Jordan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Some policing reforms were already in place in Memphis at the time of Nichols’ death, including a requirement for officers to de-escalate situations where they saw others using excessive force. Ben Crump, the attorney representing Nichols’ family, said Sunday he thinks the culture of policing is to blame, as it has normalized the use of extreme force.

“Just as much those officers are responsible for the death of Tyre Nichols, so is the implicit bias police culture that exists in America,” Crump told ABC’s “This Week.”

Crump said he thinks this culture will only begin to change if federal police reforms are implemented. Without them, he said, “We’re going to continue to see these hashtags proliferate.”

While reforms and training can have an impact, another effective deterrent to this behavior is when officers around the country see what will happen to them if they engage in this kind of violence, said Jason Armstrong, former Ferguson, Missouri, police chief. Armstrong led the Ferguson police force after it was overhauled following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.

Armstrong said since the five officers were fired and charged, officers are seeing that this behavior is not going to be tolerated. He said for some officers, it doesn’t matter if they are wearing body cameras or if there are witnesses, they are still going to resort to violence and that culture is what needs to be rooted out.

“Unfortunately, violence is what was natural for these individuals in this instance,” Armstrong told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “And that’s where we have to do a better job as law enforcement leaders, is identifying these individuals that are inside our organizations and our police departments and getting them out of the profession before something like this happens.”

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