Memphis City Council moves ahead on reform after Tyre Nichols, but activists want more

  • In US
  • 2023-02-08 02:51:57Z
  • By The Commercial Appeal
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis explains what
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis explains what's being done in the aftermath of Tyre Nichols' death.  

The Memphis City Council took its first steps toward enacting police reform in the wake of Tyre Nichols' death, but measures considered Tuesday fell short of encompassing the full requests of area activists.

"We all know there is a correlation behind a high crime rate and high numbers of cops … more cops does not mean less crime," said activist Seema Rasoul. "What does mean less crime is funding things like housing, transit, education."

The council passed two resolutions Tuesday night, the first of which makes camera misuse a disqualifying factor in the Memphis Police Department promotional process - and makes excessive use of force a firing offense.

The second resolution supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a federal reform bill that aims to reform U.S. police departments.

Passage of the act has been called for by Nichols' family and their lawyers. The act would end qualified immunity for officers, allowing civil suits to be brought against them, create a national police misconduct registry and more.

At a celebration of life for Nichols last week, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said that if passed, President Joe Biden would sign the act into law.

More:Former Memphis police officer took two photos of Tyre Nichols after beating, sent to five people

Resolutions are non-binding, but express the will of the council. Both passed unanimously.

Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after being brutally beaten, tased and pepper sprayed by Memphis police officers. Six officers have been fired in connection with his death, five of whom have been charged with second degree murder. Other city employees remain under investigation.

The council also considered several reform ordinances on their first of three required readings. The ordinances may change significantly before they pass that third reading and become law. All of the ordinances had wide - at times unanimous - support of the council members on the first readings.

More:As Memphis weighs changes after Tyre Nichols' death, why can't it release police videos quickly?

"What do we have to do to convince you?" asked the Rev. Andre Johnson, saying council members needed to "stand on the right side of history."

"We are asking today what side you will stand on? Stand with the people."

The ordinances, some of which were amended Tuesday, are:

  • An ordinance that would require an annual audit of training techniques taught to police recruits and officers.

  • An ordinance clarifying appropriate methods of traffic enforcement, including blocking police from pulling over drivers for having one brake light out, for not having a bumper or for having a license plate in the car's window.

  • An ordinance requiring police to only use "appropriately marked vehicles" for traffic stops

  • An ordinance that would require the Memphis Police Department to report in writing recommendations made by the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) regarding cases where CLERB found a case to be "sustained." That report would also be made public.

  • An ordinance to establish an independent review process of MPD incidents involving the use of excessive, unnecessary or deadly force as well as deaths or serious injuries of people in police custody. Members of the city council would be provided with details of investigations, including any video recordings.

  • An ordinance requiring the regular collection and reporting of data regarding traffic stops, arrests, use of force and complaints.

Some of the items before the council may actually be subject to negotiations between the police union and the mayor, who sign a memorandum of understanding that the council is not party to, said City Attorney Jennifer Sink.

That may leave some of these decisions up to future negotiations, which Councilman Worth Morgan said makes them an election issue.

Activists attending the meeting Tuesday widely supported the measures, but urged the council to do even more to reform the police department.

The Lee Sisters and Providence AME Lay & Women’s Missionary Society Dr. Kevin A. Brooks hosts a rally in front of City Hall to voice their concerns and frustrations with crime and police reform on Feb. 7, 2023 in Memphis, TN.
The Lee Sisters and Providence AME Lay & Women’s Missionary Society Dr. Kevin A. Brooks hosts a rally in front of City Hall to voice their concerns and frustrations with crime and police reform on Feb. 7, 2023 in Memphis, TN.  

Some of their demands included the disbanding of MPD's other specialized units, including the Multi-Agency Gang Unit and the Organized Crime Unit.

They also blasted MPD Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis, who spoke to the council earlier Tuesday, with activist Casio Montez urging the council to "hold her accountable."

"Y'all hear us, but you're not listening," Montez said.

"CJ need to go," someone yelled from the audience.

More:She came to Memphis a 'rising star.' Why Chief CJ Davis is facing her toughest test yet.

Catherine Lewis said the items before the council looked "weak" to her.

"The culture of slave catchers clearly still lives in that group today," she said. "How do you think these things you're putting forth can make a difference? My thought is there's such a deep psychological wound among people who carry such hatred in their hearts for other people."

More:Seven additional Memphis police employees are under investigation in Tyre Nichols' case

Much of the discussion Tuesday focused on traffic enforcement, with activists stressing that the majority of negative interactions with the police begin with traffic stops.

Police originally said Nichols was pulled over by police, but MPD later said it couldn't substantiate its initial statement that he had engaged in reckless driving.

Some of the cars used by officers at the interaction with Nichols were unmarked.

Daniel Bodah, senior program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, said that while traffic stops might intend to counter minor harms that can be caused by something like a broken headlight, there are significant harms involved in the traffic stop itself.

What happened with Nichols "is not an uncommon occurrence around the country," said Bodah, who flew in from New York for the meeting. Racial disparities are "huge" in traffic enforcement and particularly concentrated in discretionary stops, he said.

Ultimately, those gathered in the audience urged the council to "do the right thing."

Laramie Wheeler asked council members to pass ordinances crafted by Decarcerate Memphis which were presented to the council on December 6, about one month before Nichols was beaten.

"Today is Feb. 7 and you are still talking about it," she said.

Knowing that ordinances take three readings, "because people are dying … how fast can you read?" Wheeler asked. "How many more people have to die at a traffic stop for you to do your job that we elected you to do?"

Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: US