WASHINGTON, DC – In response to the anticipated release of video footage of Tyre Nichols’ murder, Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has released the following statement:
“We grieve the loss of Tyre Nichols and offer our condolences and support to his family. Once again, our nation is mourning the murder of another unarmed Black person at the hands of the police. While America awaits the release of the video, we at the Lawyers’ Committee know that we don’t need to watch the footage to confirm what we already know is true: we need transformative police accountability now to ensure that the grotesque violence against Tyre Nichols is never repeated by law enforcement again.
We’ve said this all before. Tyre’s death is a bitter reminder of the Black lives that we’ve lost due to police brutality. Thirty years ago, we were horrified by the footage of police beating Rodney King. And yet, despite our decades of protest, we’re still fighting the same battle. The only difference now is more of the horrific incidents are being captured on video, whether it be body cams or bystanders. Tinkering at the margins of a violent police state is not enough. It never was. This death must amount to more than just another viral moment or hashtag. It must spark a serious reconsideration and shifting of priorities, deployment, and resources.
Tyre’s murder is also a cruel reminder of just how sinister structural racism can be. The fact that an unarmed Black man could die at the hands of five Black police officers proves that merely increasing diversity in police departments will not address the systemic violence, racism, and cruelty that law enforcement continues to inflict upon Black people. It is not a white on Black problem; it is a blue on Black problem. This murder is also a reminder that the specially-developed police units do not mitigate the inherent dangers. This is especially true for the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION force, a so-called “specialized unit” that operated with significantly less oversight, and of which the five officers who murdered Tyre were members. As we’ve seen in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and now Memphis, these types of units abuse their lack of restraint and routinely antagonize Black and Brown people, making us prisoners in our own neighborhoods.
We don’t need vague task forces with less oversight. We don’t need ‘thoughts and prayers’ from Members of Congress who will ‘celebrate’ Black History Month in a few days, but who refuse to do anything about the epidemic of police violence against Black people in our country.
Each day without meaningful police accountability legislation is another day where Black communities remain targets of brutality and abuse. There is no excuse for inaction. We need lawmakers to honor Tyre Nichols’ by pushing bold, expansive legislation to fundamentally change policing in this country. That starts with Congress passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in its strongest form, but must also continue with transformation at the local level. This change must include strong community oversight, publicly available disciplinary records, and a complete transformation in culture and mentality of law enforcement.
Today, as we grieve with Tyre’s family and seethe in anger at the images of his life being taken away, we also stand determined to continue fighting alongside them and others. We are fighting for a system that actually makes us feel safe, not scared to drive a car, buy cigarettes or even go to sleep at night. We know we need better policy. But really, we just want to live.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.