The death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old man, at the hands of five police officers in Memphis, has brought police brutality back into the national spotlight in the United States. The five officers were part of a now-disbanded special unit of the police that was supposed to focus on violent street crimes. They stopped Nichols at a traffic light and proceeded to beat him with kicks, punches, and blows from their batons. Video footage released by the police shows Nichols crying out for help and his mother. The five officers have been charged with murder, and others who were seen in the video standing by without intervening have been suspended pending an investigation. These disturbing images have made Nichols the symbol of a movement to demand accountability and action for instances of police violence, which was galvanized by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. It also highlights that while these movements have been effective in starting discussions about excessive force in law enforcement, the cloak of impunity that allows such crimes to occur has yet to be fully penetrated. Nevertheless, the quick prosecution of the accused officers must be commended.
Police brutality is a widespread problem around the world. The causes and context of the issue may differ from country to country, but there are still lessons to be learned. The root of the problem is the unchecked power of the police, which can only be reined in through constitutional and statutory safeguards, strong oversight, and a social attitude that makes it clear that crime, even when committed by those in uniform, will not be tolerated.