One day after the disturbing video of Tyre Nichols' brutal arrest earlier this month was made public, the Memphis Police Department said on Saturday that its Scorpion squad had been "permanently decommissioned."
That unit included all five of the former officers who participated in Nichols' arrest and have subsequently been charged with second-degree murder in connection with his passing.
The choice was made during a meeting on Saturday between members of the unit and Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis "to address the route ahead for the department and the community in the wake of the terrible murder of Tyre Nichols," according to a statement from the department.
According to the statement, officials decided that permanently deactivating the Scorpion Unit was "in the greatest interest of everybody."
The officers of Scorpion concurred "unconditionally" with the choice, the department said. Since Nichols' arrest on January 7, the Scorpion unit has been dormant, according to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who said this in a news release on Friday.
More than twenty policemen were assigned to the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION). They had "POLICE" printed over the front and back of their tactical black jackets, black hoodies, and dark-colored Dodge Chargers with the Scorpion logo.
According to the agency, they patrolled in groups and occasionally stopped low-level traffic to look for violent offenders, narcotics, or weapons.
The statement from Saturday said, "While the terrible actions of a few threw a veil of disgrace on the title "Scorpion," it is vital that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive measures in the healing process for those impacted."
Three days after being forcibly taken into custody after a traffic stop by Memphis police, 29-year-old Nichols passed away on Jan. 10. Nichols was pepper sprayed, stomped in the head while being held, punched, and repeatedly assaulted with a baton, according to bodycam and surveillance footage that was made public on Friday.
Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith are the five former cops who were later dismissed. They ranged in age from 24 to 32 and were appointed between 2017 and 2020. The five cops are all facing charges of murder and other offenses.
Strickland also stated that the city was "initiating an outside, independent examination of the training, rules, and operations of our specialized teams" in his news briefing on Friday.
The actions of the Memphis police officers who are accused of fatally beating Tyre Nichols are abhorrent in their ferocity and depressing in that they demonstrate how little police reform has advanced in recent years.
On January 7, police dragged a black man, Nichols, 29, out of his car during a traffic check, shoved him to the ground, yelled threats at him, and then pepper sprayed him in the face.
There are still unanswered questions regarding why Nichols was stopped; according to Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis, they were unable to verify accusations that he had been driving dangerously.
After struggling to stand up and flee, Nichols was discovered a short while later. The cops can be seen beating Nichols with a baton, kicking him in the head, and repeatedly hitting him before propping him up against a police cruiser, according to body camera and surveillance footage that was made public on Friday.
In the crucial minutes that followed the beating, the police continued to wander around without providing any assistance.
After waiting more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Nichols passed away three days later after suffering "extensive bleeding caused by a violent beating," according to the preliminary findings of an autopsy ordered by his family's lawyers.
It was obvious to me based on my 28 years of experience as a former police officer and captain that the officers lacked oversight, displayed little professional maturity, and escalated a situation into what would ultimately become a deadly encounter through gross negligence and a complete disregard for human life.
Given that all five of the cops who were accused of murder are black, the harm is even more upsetting for the black community. Black community members frequently anticipate that black cops will serve as their leaders.
This country's modern policing practices can be traced back to slave patrols, and abuses within the criminal justice system continue to lead to over-policing and the killing of black people. Seeing black officers embrace brutality and join a police subculture that demands loyalty to even the most heinous police behaviors, such as beating subjects who flee from the police, is beyond devastating.
The officers' union, the Memphis Police Association, posted a statement on Facebook after Nichols passed away saying, "The Memphis Police Association would, again, want to send condolences to the family of Mr. Tyre Nichols."
The Memphis Police Association is dedicated to the administration of justice and never supports the misuse of authority or the maltreatment of any person.
The association currently has an odd position. It did not offer an outright defense of the detained officers or claim that they were simply carrying out a difficult task that required them to make split-second decisions, which are responses we have come to anticipate from police unions that frequently assist in preventing officers accused of misconduct from facing consequences.
The public has taken note of the prompt action taken against the five officers, who are all a part of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, a specialist force tasked with combating crime (SCORPION). All five were sacked in less than two weeks.
In three weeks, body camera footage was made public, and criminal charges were brought. These were the right things to do.
We now know that prompt openness and accountability are feasible in situations of police officer homicide, and the case in Memphis serves as an example, according to Ben Crump, the lawyer defending the Nichols family, who stated this in a news conference on Friday.
Many have observed that the police attack on Nichols is similar to the one on Rodney King, a black man who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991 and whose beating was videotaped.
The beating of Nichols, however, is much worse because it demonstrates that, despite nearly 32 years, little progress has been made in terms of police reform and that seemingly insignificant traffic violations still result in the deaths of black and other minority men and women when they are stopped by the police.
Following the passing of George Floyd in 2020, appeals for police reform have largely been supplanted by pleas to reduce public concern over increased crime, in part by increasing the number of police personnel.
As part of his Safer America Plan, President Joe Biden recommended financing for 100,000 additional police officers last year. The 2023 omnibus appropriations bill contains $324 million in funds for additional police officer hiring.
However, I am aware from personal experience that building trustworthy connections between the police and the communities they serve is a more effective means of preventing crime than adding additional police to an already overburdened system.
When suppressive forces like the Scorpion unit, which were created to protect communities rather than frighten them, over police poor neighborhoods, there can be no confidence. (The Memphis Police Department announced on Saturday that its Scorpion Squad will be permanently disbanded.)
Efforts to repeal qualified immunity, a legal principle that shields police personnel from being held personally accountable for violating a person's rights, have failed in Congress, and the Senate has failed to enact the federal policing measure that bears George Floyd's name.
States and municipal governments have attempted to address police misbehavior by enacting new laws and procedures.
There are still too many pointless fatalities caused by the batons, feet, hands, fists, and weapons of law enforcement, despite repeated training sessions and policy revisions.
Such fatalities may be avoided, but training or a patchwork of regional regulations won't be adequate. The transformation will appear as a commitment to change through federal legislation that deals with the use of no-knock warrants, the duty to intervene, the use of excessive force, and other risky policing issues; the election of powerful political change-makers; and a determination on the part of the criminal "justice" system to hold dishonest police officers responsible for their actions through administrative and criminal charges.
Success will be seen when we stop hearing black men scream for their mothers while they are being beaten.
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