Tyre Nichols – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I was a young 21 year old Army MP when the news cycle was flooded by the story of four white LAPD officers caught on film beating up a black suspect. I was in the dayroom of our barracks at Sierra Army Depot watching the film footage, looped over and over, of an officer swinging his PR24 baton back and forth, hitting a fuzzy, pixelized figure wallowing around on the ground.

There was practically nothing else on TV that day. Every channel played the same video loop and interviewed “community leaders” about how bad racism was in American policing. I could tell that a lot of people were feeling vindicated – almost giddy – at having actual, tangible proof that white cops were violent racists. This proved, in their eyes, their rhetoric that white cops were prowling the streets actively looking for black men to try and kill.

The day room was full of my fellow MPs, white and black alike. The room was abuzz with comments, expletives, and expressions of disbelief. Many of the black soldiers were verbally expressing their anger. I pointed out – innocently enough – that we still did not know the full story. Basically, what the news was showing started out with King on the ground. The footage did not show how he ended up on the ground. It did not show the initial traffic stop that led to this situation. Basically, all the media was saying was that cops pulled over a black man, started beating him with night sticks, and were caught on camera.

This is where I got my first taste of the ugly spectre of race-tainted news and politically correct narratives. I was instantly set upon by several of the black soldiers, telling me I’d better watch what I say. Many had obviously grown up hearing this same narrative, and now here was the proof of its reality. It was 1991, and already you weren’t allowed to ask for ALL the evidence before passing judgement on cops who use force on a black man.

As a side note, have you ever seen the FULL Rodney King video. You can watch it HERE. In the very beginning you see what the news never showed America: Rodney King lunging at a cop before being knocked to the ground. It continues to show King doing everything except laying down on the ground with his arms and legs out, surrendering to the police.

For the record, I’m not condoning the type and amount of force that the officers used in that situation. There were, and still are, many things I find terribly wrong with their tactics. In my following post, I will explain some of these issues.

Now, here we are, almost 32 years later. Policing has completely changed since the Rodney King incident – specifically because of the Rodney King incident. Pretty much my entire police career existed within the shadow of the Rodney King Incident. All kinds of new policies and procedures exist today that did not 32 years ago. All kinds of special programs have been tried to “fix” the problem of police/community relations. Agencies have experimented with an exhausting array of lovely – sounding ideas such as “Community Policing,” affirmative action, sensitivity training, “diversity initiatives,” community outreach, and “kinder, gentler policing.”

And yet, after 32 years of all of the attempts to get certain segments of society to see the police as something other than the enemy, we have almost a re-run of the Rodney King incident … with a few unique twists.

These next few posts are going to piss you off at some point, because it is not a full condemnation of cops, nor is it a fawning puff piece about cops. It’s a cold, honest evaluation of reality. That’s all. In this article, I look at the perceived problems of interactions between police and black suspects, the imagined solutions to the problems, the outcomes of these imagined solutions, the media bias in reporting these problems, community perception of police, and the cultural realities that are contributing to the problems of crime and policing.

The Memphis Police Department released the bodycam footage of officers involved in the beating death of Tyre Nichols this weekend, along with accompanying video shot from a pole-mounted police camera. All I keep hearing from the talking heads across the nation that the sheeple trust to explain life to them is “This is horrible.” “This is terrible.” “This is horrific.” But no one wants to tackle the elephant in the room: The cops that beat this black kid to death were all black. And there is video of the incident.

Honestly, the media and all of the activists who have been beating the “racism” drum for decades don’t know what to do with this. When a white cop (or cops) assault a black suspect (or even shoot and kill one in a clear case of self-defense), the narrative automatically becomes “racism.” What shall we do about all this racism in the police ranks? How do we deal with the “systematic racism” that has infected an entire profession.

CNN commentator Van Jones wrote an opinion piece published on CNN’s website that, through all sorts of mental gymnastics, tries to make the case that this incident is a result of black cops being basically “brainwashed” by all of the white racism that is so prevalent in police agencies today. https://www.foxnews.com/media/cnns-van-jones-says-tyre-nichols-death-driven-by-racism-despite-black-cops-being-charged – More on that later.

Here is the cold, hard reality: Racism has nothing to do with 99.9% of all these incidents.

There it is. Everyone is afraid to say it. Black suspects, by and large, are not brutalized or killed because they are black. They wind up brutalized or killed because they have a run-in with police and things go awry. This goes for Trayvon Martin (I know – killed by civilian, but not because of his color), Dante Wright, Daniel Prude, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddy Brown, Michael Brown, Jacob Blake … the list goes on and on.

Get your copy of Brian’s book – “Blue Lives Matter” 10% of proceeds go to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to help the families of fallen heroes.

Shootings aside (these occur when events are happening at lightning speed and an officer perceives a threat) violent reactions like the one in Memphis, and even Rodney King’s encounter are entirely about punishment, not race. Calling these incidents “racist” creates an easy scapegoat, alleviates any responsibility on the part of the suspect, and makes for incendiary headlines. And if the media gets lucky, it might even cause a riot.

So, let us look at the “punishment” aspect. Allow me to clarify that under no circumstances am I trying to justify what these cops in Memphis did. Same with Rodney King back in ‘91. Beating someone into oblivion because they piss you off is absolutely, positively unacceptable. It is brutality and must not be tolerated.

But “paybacks” are common in police/suspect interactions. I know it as a fact. I know it from 15 years in police work and having worked in multiple agencies. It happens. It was happening before I was a cop. It happened during my career, and it is still happening today. Ever heard of an “attitude adjustment?” How about a “tune up?” Or perhaps you’ve heard of the old “screen test.” (Interchangeable with the “brake check” but more humorous.) This happens far more than people would like to imagine, because cops are human beings. They are as imperfect as everybody else. And most people who are trying to do their job get pissed off when somebody tries to deliberately interfere with them doing that job. They get especially pissed when someone is insulting or violent while trying to prevent them from doing their jobs. When you boil it down, what is a law enforcement officer’s job? It is controlling situations and gaining compliance from people. They have the authority to use physical means to gain that compliance, and sometimes things get carried away.

Most of the time, though, it doesn’t end up with a suspect in the morgue, or even the hospital. I knew plenty of cops with short tempers who were quick to get into someone’s face who was irritating them. When an officer told someone they were under arrest, and they responded by voluntarily placing their hands behind their back to be handcuffed, things went well. But fight or run, and that person could be assured of an extra hard takedown, a little extra twist in the arm-bar during the handcuffing, or maybe a painful knee in the back while being cuffed up. Yes, even yours truly would occasionally put a little extra “Oomph” into a takedown or crank a guy’s arm just a little harder than usual if he had an attitude when it was time to go to jail. I’m sorry, it doesn’t match up to our concept of “officer friendly,” and police administrators will deny it to the grave, but it is reality and it happens.

This brings me to Cold Hard Reality #2 – None of the media martyrs would be dead today if they had each done one simple thing: comply with the directions of the police at the onset of the incident.

Again, I will clarify that those individuals’ lack of cooperation did not justify their death. Capital punishment is reserved for murderers. Again, when it comes to a shooting, those are fast and crazy – a cop reacts to a perceived threat to his life or the potential for great bodily harm. However, resisting police officers’ attempts to do their jobs eventually will result in things getting physical. It can all be avoided by doing what an officer says during the encounter. If the cop is wrong in their judgement and actions, it can be sorted out through the department’s command structure and/or the courts, later – if you are alive to tell your story.

Michael Brown would be alive today if he had not tried to fight a cop and attempt to take his gun away. Jacob Blake would be alive today if he had allowed himself to be arrested at the scene of his domestic violence incident and not run into his car to retrieve a knife. Freddy Brown would not be dead if he had peacefully allowed himself to be arrested, and sat quietly in the police van on his way to jail. George Floyd would not be dead today if he had sat down in the back seat of the patrol car like he was asked to do upon being arrested. Instead, he made up a big performance about being claustrophobic – after having been in a car just minutes before the arrest. And Tyre Nichols would already be bailed out of jail, back home with his mommy, talking about what a**holes the MPD cops are – if he had only laid down on the ground and put his hands behind his back to be arrested.

Again, nothing said above should be construed as indicating that these deaths were appropriate. At the same time, they were 100% avoidable – by the person who is now dead. It’s something that no media wants to talk about. No reporter will ask such questions. Nashville’s mayor won’t say it. Nashville’s police chief won’t say it. No one ever challenges the liability of the suspect in these situations. In fact, the accepted mainstream narrative would indirectly indicate that these suspects were doing nothing wrong! Will we ever have an honest conversation about the current culture – especially in black communities – that teaches young people that it is perfectly okay to refuse to respect and comply with those who enforce our laws?

If you review the bodycam footage of the original traffic stop in the Nichols case, you’ll find that the two officers attempted to subdue and arrest Nichols for 1 minute and 14 seconds prior to his breaking free and fleeing on foot. They repeatedly ordered him to lie face down and place his hands behind his back. He started immediately yelling “I didn’t do anything!” That is not peaceful compliance. He keeps saying “alright,” but he does not physically comply with their commands. Every cop encounters that eventually in their career – a suspect keeps saying that they are complying (or trying to) while they actively resist attempts to be handcuffed. It’s actually a pretty common tactic. At one point he tells the cops, “Stop.” This has been offered up by the mainstream media as his somehow pleading for his life. The bad stuff hadn’t even begun. He was basically saying “Don’t try to arrest me.”

So, this post should have upset any “social justice” warriors out there. But I’m not done. My next post will critique the actual event based on my observations and experience on the street. As I unpack the events of that evening, I’ll point out exactly where the officers took a wrong turn, and how it sent the entire incident into a tail spin.

Brian Whiddon spent 15 years as a street cop. In his book Blue Lives Matter – The Heart behind The badge, he shares his experiences and reminds us that cops, first and foremost, are HUMAN BEINGS, and need to be seen as such. 10% of all proceeds go to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to help families of first responders killed in the line of duty.

Published by Brian Whiddon

Get an old former cop's point of view on today's issues that affect public safety and the civil society. Straight, honest commentary without politically correct filters.

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