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Why The Video Of Tyre Nichols Murder Should Raise Questions About Memphis And Specialized Units In Policing

What could have been done differently? After a lifetime in and around law enforcement, I’m going to weigh in on the painful question of what those men did and what, in my opinion, should have been done differently.

By Jason Ray MortonPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
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Why The Video Of Tyre Nichols Murder Should Raise Questions About Memphis And Specialized Units In Policing
Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

The "Arrest" Of Tyre Nichols In Memphis Tennessee

It’s now been called “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” and compared to the 1991 beating of Rodney King. Looking back at the Rodney King incident, that looked more like they lost control of their tempers and this looks far more deliberate, as you’ll see if you choose to watch the video.

It’s been more than 30 years since the Rodney King incident, and police haven’t reformed enough that this doesn’t happen. Now, another tragedy has unfolded, and protesting has begun. Which, if peaceful, is fine. In the United States, there’s a secondary problem with these incidents. The definition of peaceful protests and what a protest should entail.

What starts as a vehicle stop ends in the death of a 29-year-old. People should be asking why? What went wrong with the incident? In this case, the first thing that went horribly wrong was the people in uniform.

Memphis authorities are now saying that there is no evidence to support the claims that this started as a reckless driving incident. What starts out as a questionable stop, ultimately turns into a brutal killing of a man by five men that were sworn to protect and serve their community. Five uniformed police officers can be seen beating Tyre Nichols, picking him up, and holding him so he could be struck again and again until he was back on the ground.

Absolutely nothing about what was caught on tape in Memphis is taught to police officers when they’re trained. This was not self-defense, attempting to subdue a suspect, attempting to affect an arrest, or in defense of others. It amounts to little more than a street-gang-style beatdown.

Photo by Shayna Take on Unsplash

Was Memphis’s SCORPION Unit Cursed

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made a statement to the Commercial Appeal. He admitted that Memphis really needs to figure out if there is anything that the city can do differently because they’ve got to do everything they can so this doesn’t happen again. Perhaps they need to look at the history of special units in America.

Special units in police departments are oftentimes the epicenter of corrupt and violent practices. For example, the Rampart CRASH Unit, of which Rafael Perez was a member. CRASH, or Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, was a group of elite antigang units. Crash developed its own culture over time, notable when its members began to act and dress like gang members.

The Crash teams had a reputation in Los Angeles for being tough guys, violent, and later corrupt. Thefts and drug dealing were a part of their day-to-day operation. When it all came down around them, Rafael Perez was charged with stealing over one million dollars in cocaine from the evidence lockup. He took a deal, giving up information on other corrupt officers, and crimes that ranged from corrupt practices, and falsifying evidence, all the way to murders. This sounds like the inspiration for the FX TV series The Shield.

If Memphis wants to learn something about this incident, there are perhaps two lessons to take from the Rampart Scandal that could have prevented what happened to Tyre Nichols.

Cool or tough-sounding names for special units might not be the message you want to send to your officers on the elite units. From personal experience, even the simplest of things like changing the style of a uniform can have a psychological effect on the officer. Names of units like Strike Team, Scorpion, Or Crash, change the game and the mentality of the members of the unit. One of the hardest-hitting specialized units I’ve ever trained with was the “Orange Crush” unit attached to the prison system. Only after training with them did I understand why that was their nickname.

Specialty units that isolate themselves should be paid special attention to by command. It’s not unheard of for divisions like investigations to become isolated from patrol. It’ll be the same department, but cliques begin to form. When cliques begin to separate the brothers and sisters in blue, there’s an issue. It means something in the brotherhood of law enforcement when a greater divide exists than just the job assignment. In the L.A. Crash units, it was reported by Rafael Perez that officers insulated themselves from the by-the-book officers and supervisors. Even after someone got into the unit, they were watched carefully to make sure they weren’t “snitches” and they had to be sponsored by a trusted member.

The smallest of changes in a group dynamic can set off unforeseen circumstances. Command in Memphis obviously didn’t police the SCORPION unit well, and there have likely been other instances of corrupt behavior or practices. It’s unlikely that these men started out their lawlessness with a murder. Had their commanders been doing their due diligence, and supervising them more closely, what might they have found?

I started my career in a police-style uniform. Two years later, we transitioned from the classic county sheriff look to BDU (Military) style pants and shirts for duty, and dress uniforms for court, parades, or funerals. During the first few months, the change in demeanor was noticeable. It brought a thug or fighter mentality out in half the department, one that led to more physical confrontations than necessary.

Takeaways

In 23 years I never met a uniformed officer that went to work wanting to kill anybody. I did, however, meet some particularly brutal and violently orientated officers. Over time, the worst of them got caught up and the rest calmed down before they crossed lines they couldn’t come back from.

In jobs like law enforcement or corrections, you enter the job knowing there are dangers. You accept that when you sign up. You will have to at some point put your hands on somebody in a violent manner. It’s the nature of the job, unfortunately.

But, no matter how pissed off you get, how angry you might find yourself, or how particularly detestable the person you’re dealing with might be, there’s a line you can’t cross and still call yourself an officer. It’s right around the point of tackling and wrestling with a suspect to get him into custody turning into a barbaric beating that leaves a man hospitalized or dead.

Five “goons,” and that’s what they look like on video, attacked a suspect after he fled. People can argue all they want that the kid should have just got on his chest and followed orders. There’s real fear in the country, fear of police. I’ve seen it firsthand. In my career, before leaving the sheriff's department I took a small handful of young men into custody who surrendered to us because they were afraid of getting killed by the police.

In this case, there are practical moves that these officers could have used to put Tyre Nichols on his chest, then cuffed him, and none of this would have happened. Had they, Tyre might still be alive. Instead, they let something, be it adrenaline, ignorance, or something else get the best of them and they crossed the line from being the guardians of their community to the very thing they’d sworn to protect the innocent from, criminals.

Tyre Nichols was ultimately murdered just down the street from his parent's home. Ask yourself this. Why wouldn’t you just seize the car and get a warrant for his arrest if you had a case or if you had evidence he was guilty of something worth stopping him for?

As more information comes out about these men and the Memphis P.D. SCORPION Unit, there’ll no doubt be much discussion about defunding the police, violence in policing, and police practices. The one thing that we have to hope for, is that it remains peaceful, unlike the post-George Floyd protests that were anything but peaceful at times. As the investigations continue, and justice unfolds, our country is again in a tense period of time due to the criminal actions of a few men tarnishing the image of the good men and women out there that wear the uniform.

Thanks for reading. Drop comments and if you liked the piece leave a heart. If you really liked it, Tips are welcomed and appreciated.

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About the Creator

Jason Ray Morton

I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.

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  • Mariann Carroll2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your insight. It is very important to know that police are train properly but some officers choice not to fallow proper protocols that comes with the job and training . When they don’t , injustice happens . Thank you for sharing this story . Very informative in details .

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