Monday Morning Thoughts: Council Needs a Stronger Statement on Tyre Nichols

Photo of the Davis police department at sunrise
Photo of the Davis police department at sunrise
Photo Courtesy Don Sherman

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – In a lot of ways, the murder of Tyre Nichols is an easy case for political leaders.  It was egregious.  The audio from the incident by itself is disturbing and gives us troubling insight into the mindset of those officers and then, on top of it all, the fact that they failed to get medical attention for 23 minutes is inexcusable.

That lends itself to outrage and it also lends itself to political leaders speaking out against it.

Some will disparagingly call this “virtue signaling” but I think that’s largely unfair.  After all, for years, for decades, these kinds of incidents happened probably on a near daily basis and no one paid attention.  We have didn’t have body worn cameras and cell cameras and dash cameras everywhere to broadcast these things into our homes and the politicians were able to say silent and nothing changed.

With that being said, I think the first part of Davis Mayor Will Arnold’s statement is important and necessary.

He said, “The murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police is the latest in a series of horrifying incidents in our country. The use of excessive force and failing to intervene or render aid are crimes and should be punished as such.

“This infuriating brutality is unacceptable. Our thoughts go out to Tyre’s family, friends and community. No person should ever go through such torture and no family should ever live with such anguish.”

He then said, “Public trust is paramount in our public safety system.”

Fine so far, but then he shifts away from the horror and brutality of the Nichols killing to laying out to the public what the city of Davis has done about policing.

Let me be clear: I support everything that the city has done so far since 2017 to strengthen its police oversight process, establish a citizen review board (after nearly running my wife out of town for advocating for it in 2006) and move to a Department of Social Services and shift services out of the police department.

They have not addressed the biggest problem in my view—racial profiling.  And ironically I think that is not only a huge omission in Arnold’s statement, but the proximate cause of many of these ultimately fatal police encounters that we see.

The council to a person is aware that they need to address police stops, but have yet to do so so far.  The data shows that is a huge problem, backing up years of eyewitness and anecdotal accounts of racial profiling.

San Francisco this month moved closer to the strongest such policy in the country and the city of Davis needs to implement something similar.

But I have two other critical problems with Mayor Arnold’s statement.

First he noted, “The Davis Police Department is committed to serving community members with dignity and respect for all human life.”

I’m sure both the Mayor and the Police Department believe that is true.  But then again, I’m sure other departments would agree with this statement too—you know, Sacramento, Vallejo, San Francisco… Memphis.

What we learned from what happened in Memphis—as I have pointed out a number of times—is that while we absolutely should adopt reforms, those reforms are not going to stop these tragedies from occurring.

For years we argued for body worn cameras and yet, the police beat this guy, took apparent delight in doing so, in full recognition that everything they were saying was being recorded and would be seen by their supervisors and probably the public.

For years we have argued for a more diverse police force and yet here it was, five Black officers beating an unarmed Black man.

We can talk about accountability—but even with recent examples of accountability, that didn’t stop these officers from beating this man to death.

So, while it is great that the city of Davis and the City Council has taken all of these steps to ensure police accountability and transparency and oversight, what we learned in this incident is that none of these things are enough.

Many communities have implemented these and other similar measures and none of that has stopped or even slowed these kinds of atrocities.

Three weeks ago the Guardian reported, “US law enforcement killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence since 2013 when experts first started tracking the killings nationwide, a new data analysis reveals.”

So just two years after George Floyd and the uprisings and protests and calls for justice, the problem has gotten worse not better.

The Guardian noted, “Despite the international attention and some local efforts to curb police brutality, there has been an intensifying backlash to criminal justice reform, and the overall number of killings has remained alarmingly high.”

So given that, why point out all things we have done rather than things that we still need to do?

Noted the Guardian: “While the numbers have crept up, the circumstances that precede the killings have remained consistent.”

“These are routine police encounters that escalate to a killing,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and policy analyst who founded Mapping Police Violence and provided 2022 data to the Guardian.

The city has attempted to address some of these but the biggest areas that we have no addressed are police stops.  That constitutes a huge percentage of the police killings.

Again, I don’t want to disparage or criticize the condemnation of the death of Tyre Nichols—the council SHOULD do that.  But let’s make it a meaningful and operational statement not just an opportunity to point out all the things we have done—things that apparently have not addressed the underlying problem.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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