What should the police do?
Georgie Whitehouse discusses the pain of ‘fanciful words’ when it comes to ending police brutality against marginalised groups.
Another brutal and tragic death of a Black American man at the hands of police officers has reopened public debate around police policy and reform. Protestors, both black and white, have gathered in masses across America to demand justice for Tyre Nichols who, following a traffic charge, was savagely beaten by Memphis Police, and later died in hospital.
The officers responsible for Tyre’s death belonged to Memphis’ ‘Scorpion Unit’ and have since been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression following the release of body cam and surveillance video evidence.
The brutality of the American police force, alongside its racially prejudiced history, is an uncomfortable, yet widely accepted reality.
As we are all aware, the fatal assault of Nichols is not an isolated incident of police misconduct. Instead, the surveillance footage of the attack reminds us of an all too familiar reality. In the eyes of Tyre Nichols, we see the fear shared by George Floyd, Rodney King, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner. We bear witness to the same lack of mercy as when police unjustly killed Michael Brown, Daunte Wright, and Tamir Rice. The brutality of the American police force, alongside its racially prejudiced history, is an uncomfortable, yet widely accepted reality. However, as residents of the UK, it would be a misjudgement to label the tragedy of state violence as an entirely American issue and consequently turn a blind eye to the shortcomings of our own police force.
In Britain, the comparison between America and our own state authority is dampened by the argument that our police do not carry firearms. Of course, the national image of the British “Bobby” twirling his baton and adjusting his custodian hat is far less daunting than the idea of a fully armed American police officer sporting a bullet-proof vest. Yet, cases like the shooting of Chris Kaba (an unarmed black man) along with the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard by an off-duty police officer, remind us that the perpetuated image of the friendly, local Policeman does not always align with reality. Corruption within the Metropolitan Police Force is being uncovered with an alarming frequency.
Already in 2023, the Met fired officer David Carrick who was labelled a “serial rapist” after his own admittance to the dozens of sexual offences he committed over two decades in the force. As a result, the Met is investigating 1000 sexual and domestic abuse claims involving 800 officers. And with revelations such as this, it is easy to understand why British confidence in the state is waning. Clearly, the current operations and practices of both the British and American police forces allow for the oppression and victimisation of already vulnerable communities. And consequently, the ability of the state to ask for support from racial minorities, women, the working class, and other prejudiced groups, is bordering on impossible.
This effort must be practical, tangible, and offer real evidence of change on the part of the government.
Much needs to be done to heal the divide between the state and the people. This effort must be practical, tangible, and offer real evidence of change on the part of the government. Simple apologies and embarrassed admittances by police departments of their wrongdoings do not resolve the major issues and injustices that continue to occur. British Parliament and the American government must adequately investigate the systemic issues that allow for police misconduct, and initiate appropriate reform in both the policy and practices of law enforcement. And we, as the public, must not accept this level of incompetence, corruption, and brutality from a system that we both rely on and pay for with our taxes.
Ultimately, thoughts and prayers will not bring Tyre Nichols back to his mother, whom he was driving to on the night of his death. Fanciful words and promises of change are not enough from our leaders and politicians. We must demand change.