A Balanced View of the Tyre Nichols Case

Tyre Nichols’ funeral is today in Memphis. Kamala Harris will attend, consistent with the Left’s view that his death at the hands of Memphis police officers has broad significance for our society. Amid ludicrous claims that the beating of a black man by five black police officers is somehow a manifestation of “white supremacy,” it hasn’t been easy to find an informed, balanced assessment of the incident.

At AmericanExperiment.org, my colleague David Zimmer provides just that. David came to our organization after 33 years in the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department. He knows what he is talking about.

David’s judgment on the officers is harsh:

The collective actions of the officers are reflective of poorly trained and poorly supervised officers who lacked physical fitness, tactics, self-discipline, and the basic humanity needed to properly perform the important and trusted work of a police officer. Their actions were deserving of their dismissal from the Memphis PD and the profession of policing. They were also deserving of criminal charges to varying degrees.

So he is anything but an apologist. But what actually happened?

It’s important to note that despite what media reports suggest, the video doesn’t support that Nichols was assaulted during this initial encounter. What appears to take place is that an officer forcibly removed Nichols from his car and tried to get him to lie on the ground on his stomach. Nichols refused to roll onto his stomach, despite several officers trying to move him to that position. A “drive stun” was threatened, which is a contact stun with the taser, but it isn’t clear that the taser was deployed. Then an officer threatened to pepper spray Nichols, who continued to refuse to move to his stomach. The officer then sprayed Nichols, who struggled to his feet and ran away from officers. One of the officers tased Nichols, but the probes didn’t stick and Nichols is seen running out of the camera frame while taking off his sweatshirt.
A few minutes after fleeing from the initial stop, officers spotted Nichols on foot and gave chase. One officer had to tackle Nichols, who was running. Another protracted struggle ensued with several officers. At one point, as Nichols raised up to his knees while struggling with officers, an officer struck Nichols with a baton on the upper arm three times. These strikes were ineffective, and failed to result in compliance.

The use of pepper, taser, and baton during the incident were ineffective, but arguably were within common police use-of-force policy.

The actions that were out of common policy and which were arguably criminal in nature involve five closed-fist punches landed to Nichols’s head and face by one officer during the second encounter. Nichols had risen to his feet during the struggle with officers. Nichols’s arms were being controlled by two officers, and the punches were obvious attempts to knock Nichols unconscious or at least knock him to the ground. The last punch wobbled Nichols and he went to the ground. The other actions that crossed the line involve one officer who attempted to kick Nichols in the head while he was held on the ground by two officers. It’s unclear that the kick landed, as the officer appears to have missed and lost his footing.

So the incident mostly consisted of the officers’ futile attempts to get Nichols under control. Given that only one officer actually hit Nichols, blanket and equal condemnation of all is inappropriate:

As currently charged, the Shelby County District Attorney has alleged that each of the five officers charged committed second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping in possession of a deadly weapon, official misconduct, and official oppression — equally. After watching the video, it seems a stretch that all five are equally culpable of 2nd degree murder and all the other accompanying charges.

David also notes that as of his writing, an official cause of death has not been determined–something that may or may not turn out to be important.

There is much more at the link. David’s analysis is probably the most balanced and well-informed discussion of the incident that you are likely to read.

I would add just one thing: Tyre Nichols is the latest in a long line of suspects who came to grief, ultimately, because he refused to obey police officers’ instructions, ran away from the officers, and then fought with them. Such incidents of non-compliance are too common. While they are rarely fatal, they rarely end well, either.

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