By all indications, Memphis was a police department taking the right steps.  

The Memphis Police Dept. took steps advocates called for in a “Reimagine Policing” initiative in 2021, and mirrored a set of policy changes reformers want all departments to implement immediately, known as “8 Can’t Wait.”

De-escalation training is now required. Officers are told to limit uses of force, exhaust all alternatives before resorting to deadly force and report all uses of force. 

Tennessee also took action: State law now requires officers to intervene to stop abuse and report excessive force by their colleagues.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, who had been on the job since mid-2021, had been brought in to help change the culture of the department, a task the policy changes indicated she was hard at work on.  

Still, Tyree Nichols was beaten to death at the hands —  and feet — of five MPD officers while others looked on and did nothing to stop it. A clear indication that it will take more than policies, training and laws to bring an end to the violent police culture in America.  

“I don’t know how much more cumulative Black death our community should have to pay to convince elected officials that the policing system isn’t broken — it’s working exactly as it was designed to, at the expense of Black life,” said Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, a Tennessee-based civil rights leadership training school.

The Nichols case — just one of the brutality cases to make national news this month — exposes an uncomfortable truth: More than two years since the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks touched off protests, policing reforms have not significantly reduced such killings.

“Changing a rule doesn’t change a behavior,” said Katie Ryan, chief of staff for Campaign Zero, a group of academics, policing experts and activists working to end police violence. “The culture of a police department has to shift into actually implementing the policies, not just saying there’s a rule in place.”

  • 7 Recorded use of force cases by Memphis Police ending in deaths in the 2019-2021
  • 1,700 The number of recorded uses of guns, batons, pepper spray, physical beatings and other force by MPD in 2021. That total nearly doubled the year before, and 86% of the cases show Black men and women were targeted.
  • 300 Police reform bills passed by states since George Floyd’s murder, creating civilian oversight of police, more anti-bias training, stricter use-of-force limits and alternatives to arrests in cases involving people with mental illnesses. Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.  
  • 3  People per day have been killed by the police consistently since 2020.