The killing of Tyre Nichols was heinous and shocking. It was also not an aberration Simon Balto
The majority of Americans have resigned themselves to accepting policing as it currently exists. This must change
On 7 January, police in Memphis beat Tyre Nichols so badly as to send him into a days-long death to which he ultimately succumbed on 10 January. The beating of Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was so brutal that even law enforcement officials at both the city and state level – usually reliable sources for blaming the victims of police violence for the violence done to them – have declared it a heinous act. The five officers who beat Nichols, all of whom happen to also be Black, are currently on second-degree murder charges for what they did to him. Nichols is at least the 80th person killed by police in the US so far this year.
Nearly two years ago, the Guardian asked me to write about the trial of Derek Chauvin for his murder of George Floyd. At the time, my estimation of the trial’s significance – and of the conviction that seemed likely at the time and that ultimately came to pass – is that it would be minimal. After all, I more or less argued at the time, you can send Derek Chauvin to prison for being violent, but doing so doesn’t change the institution that trained him to be violent, paid him to be violent, and paid him to train others to be violent.
It would be too charitable to Chauvin to call him a scapegoat, but it also wouldn’t be far from the truth. As I wrote at the time, within the context of the trial and as Chauvin’s peers and bosses lined up to testify against him, during that trial “the fact of police violence – elemental and central to the institution, the first language of police and the structuring logic of policing” was never up for interrogation.
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People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols on Thursday in Memphis, Tennessee. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images