Addressing Police Brutality

It has happened again. On Friday, January 27th, a disturbing video was released of the violent arrest of Memphis resident Tyre Nichols. According to a statement from the Memphis Police Department, twenty days prior to the video’s release Nichols was returning back to his home in Memphis when he was pulled over for reckless driving [1]. Three days later, he died after being severely beaten and pepper-sprayed by five former Memphis Police Officers.


In the wake of police brutality concerns and the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to recognize that the confidence an officer might gain from beating anyone to a near-death state is not arbitrary. It is also important to remember that deaths at the hands of the police happen more frequently than just the instances that do happen to get recorded by a bystander or acknowledged by local law enforcement. 


Racialized violence against Black people is deeply woven into the fabric of American history. Dating back to the 19th century, law enforcement and officers in the South were initially used as slave patrols. At that time, their role was to capture runaway slaves and return them back to their masters [2]. Our criminal justice system today seems to still be plagued with the bias of this outdated policing mentality and judicial precedents that African Americans have fought long and hard to reverse. Yet and still, this system is driven by racial disparities that retain the Black community as its target. 


As difficult as it is to think about the dark past of this country, it is apparent that acknowledging the root of the issue is abundantly necessary, especially because we are still witnessing absurd murders today. There is a problem with the way Blackness is interpreted in America. From the murders of Emmett Till [3], Rodney King [4], George Floyd [5], and every death before, between, and after these; seen and unseen, there continues to be a pattern of prejudice and an epidemic of inequality that paralyzes this country.


According to the Vera Institute of Justice, Black men make up about 13% of the population but 35% of the incarcerated in America, meaning black men are disproportionately criminalized and arrested [6]. 


Even if a death is not reported after an attempted arrest, the life of a Black man is lost the moment he is placed into a criminal system that was never built for rehabilitation or success after a sentence. This has led not only to mass incarceration but also a cycle within the Black community that stops the success of our formerly incarcerated as well. Checking that “previously incarcerated” box on every job application knowing it could be a dealbreaker or walking into spaces with a sense of fear, even when police are around, is not okay. It is time to do something about it.


In order to remedy over-criminalization and reduce racial disparities in Georgia, there has to be a stronger sense of oversight, accountability, and transparency within law enforcement. Following the death of Tyre Nichols, three Georgia House bills were introduced in the 2023 legislative session by Rep. Sandra Scott, Rep. Viola Davis, and Rep. Kim Schofield. The foundation of the bills aimed to strengthen police accountability and revive community trust in law enforcement. Provisions of the bills include requiring officers to wear body cameras during interactions along with releasing this footage [7], allowing cities to build their own citizen review board for law enforcement which would examine complaints against law enforcement from the community [8], and requiring training for recognizing health issues and crisis intervention [9]. Unfortunately, none of these bills made it through the session, but introducing the ideas behind them was necessary for the General Assembly.


Policy reform within our criminal justice system and policing at large has been a national topic of discussion for years. It is time that we get ahead of the next police brutality victim. This nation cannot continue to wait for the next viral bystander video to surface or the next disturbing police body cam video to act as though we care. Although federal legislation is necessary, our state and local governments will always hold the responsibility of reimagining policing protocols and properly delivering public safety at the most immediate level. The previously mentioned pieces of legislation currently reside in House Second Readers and are making their way through the Georgia state legislature. While progress is being made, it does not need to stop here.