A key U.S. congressional leader called Sunday for a national conversation on policing in America in the aftermath of the brutal beating of a Memphis, Tennessee, man at the hands of five police officers who stand accused of murdering him after a traffic stop.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told ABC’s “This Week” show, “We’ve got to do better.”
Durbin called for better screening and training, so that police officers who are hired “really are stable.”
Durbin said he did not know how a situation could exist, as shown on videos of the pummeling of Tyre Nichols, where police are “literally congratulating each other in beating a man to death.”
Nichols, a Black, 29-year-old FedEx worker, died earlier this month, three days after crying to see his mother as police beat and kicked him while he was on the ground after the officers captured him when he attempted to flee on foot after the traffic stop.
While many contentious street confrontations with U.S. police have involved white officers shown abusing Black suspects, in this instance the officers are also Black. They were fired as details of the Nichols case first became known and then last week they were charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, representing the Nichols family, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show, that “a culture” exists in U.S. policing, no matter the ethnicity of the police officers involved, in which “somehow it’s allowed to trample on the rights” of suspects.
“How many of these cases do we have to see on video to say, ‘We have a problem America,’” Crump said. “This video is a watershed moment. What are our leaders going to do?”
He called again, as other civil rights activists have, for congressional passage of a police reform measure named after George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody. In that incident, in 2020, officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd down with a knee to Floyd’s neck on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota for several minutes. Floyd was pronounced dead at a hospital. Chauvin was later convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
Three other officers involved in the incident also were fired and later convicted and are now imprisoned for three years or more.
The legislation addresses a wide range of policing practices and law enforcement accountability and would restrict some police activity, such as no-knock raids, chokeholds and carotid holds. The then-Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved it in 2021, but it later collapsed in the Senate over Republican opposition.
Its current chances for approval would appear slim, with Republicans now controlling the House and the makeup of the Senate little changed.
In the aftermath of the death of Nichols, Memphis Police Director Cerelyn (CJ) Davis on Saturday disbanded the police unit the accused officers were part of that targeted illegal activities in high-crime neighborhoods. It was called a SCORPION unit, an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.