By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on January 27, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
During my long legal career, I have defended police officers against charges of using excessive force, and I have prosecuted a popular police lieutenant for murder.
Tonight, I watched in horror as five Memphis police officers beat Tyre Nichols to death, as captured on three police body-cam videos and one video from a pole-mounted neighborhood security camera. These officers have been fired and are now charged with the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Nichols.
These are my candid observations and opinions about this tragic and senseless murder case:
The police officers in the video who subdued, beat, and tortured Nichols clearly used excessive force, with no justification in fact or law for their actions. Tyre Nichols died as a result of their senseless actions.
The officers who killed Nichols, all of whom are black, did not give a damn about his human rights or constitutional rights.
These officers acted and talked like street thugs in a police uniforms, with badges and guns. Throughout the four videos that were aired tonight, no officer on the scene exhibited the professional training that is standard for all sworn police officers in America.
On a personal level, I am so disappointed in the five officers who killed Tyre Nichols. In 1978, I represented Sidney Williams, the Montgomery Police officer whose lawsuit opened the doors for black officers to desegregate the ranks of the city's police department. The success we experienced in Sidney's lawsuit was quickly replicated in Tennessee and other cities across the South.
Sidney and the black police officers who came behind him showed their fellow officers how to treat Montgomery's residents with dignity and respect while policing neighborhoods all over the city. Sidney and the hundred or so black officers he personally recruited to the police force during his 25 years tenure as an officer checked misconduct by white police officers on the spot.
The black officers who administered the beatdown of Tyre Nichols are a disgrace to law enforcement, in general, and the legacy of Sidney Williams and all of the brave men and women who fought in federal courts throughout the nation to get black officers on police forces across the country. They have betrayed us.
These five Memphis police officers deserved to be tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms. I have no sympathy for them.
For all practical purposes, their lives are over. There is no prison in the United States where these men can serve their sentences in safety. They would have to be sent to a Swedish prison under a special arrangement with the state of Tennessee and the United States. If they are placed in any state or federal prison in America to serve their sentences, their life expectancy will be reduced to a matter of days.
The city of Memphis must be congratulated for the way it handled this matter. The five officers were promptly fired and charged with murder. City officials did not try to gaslight the public, as we have witnessed all too often in excessive force cases in America.
Senseless police murders must end. We are so much better than this. May this kind of incident never happen again.