The death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers has reignited debates about justice, racism, and activism amongst Christians. Since Nichols’s death, five police officers have been charged with second-degree murder, with two more officers who responded to the scene being relieved of duty. Nichols was pulled over on January 7th by Memphis police officers, reportedly for reckless driving. Nichols was arrested and then later died from injuries received by the officers in the hospital. Footage from several sources, including officer body cams and traffic cams, was released from the arrest at the end of January. It does not show the specific details of what led to the stop, although one officer does claim in one of the videos that Nichols swerved his car into him. None of the footage verifies that statement, but it does show the officers ordering Nichols to the ground and making threats to him. After a brief struggle, Nichols broke free from the police and ran away, possibly with the hopes of getting to his mother’s house, which was nearby. When the officers catch him, the footage shows Nichols being beaten, even after he is handcuffed.
The footage has sparked outrage, with racism, lack of police training, defunding the police, and lowered police hiring standards all getting their share of the blame in the incident. Franklin Graham took to Facebook to express his horror at the situation and his sympathy for Nichols’s family. “What happened to Tyre Nichols should never have happened—it was cruel, unjust, and evil. Our hearts break for his family,” he wrote. He cautioned against using the incident to paint broad strokes against police. “The heinous actions of these five officers does not mean that people should start talking about defunding the police. On the contrary, it means just the opposite. We need more funding and support for law enforcement for better training, vetting, hiring, and increasing salaries so we will have the best of the best,” he added. Reports have shown that at least two of the officers were hired after the Memphis Police Department lowered its hiring standards due to a lack of officers. As of January 2022, the Department was down 500 officers. The changes included removing the requirement for an associate degree and lowering the number of required college credits from 54 to 24. The Department has also offered waivers for those convicted on felony charges.
David Peoples, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, blamed systemic issues for Nichols’s death. “The culture of policing in America is violent, unaccountable, and anti-Black, even when it involves Black police officers,” he said. He urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Pastor Wilbur T. Purvis III of Destiny World Church in Atlanta called the incident an example of self-hatred in the black community. “It’s one thing to lose a brother to the brutality of the police; it’s worse in this scenario because it was a brother killing a brother,” he said. “At some point, we have to get over our self-hatred.”
Darrell B. Harrison and Virgil Walker, the hosts of the popular “Just Thinking” Podcast, which deals with theological and cultural issues, shared their own thoughts on social media. “Sadly, the outrageous violence against Tyre Nichols is far too normative in black communities. This culture of death can be observed in everything from the celebration of black-on-black violence in our music to the acceptance of abortion in black pulpits. Life Matters,” wrote Walker. In response to a tweet from Benjamin Crump, who is representing Nichols’s family, Harrison offered his own prescription for how to stop bad policing. His number one solution was to “Preach the gospel, so the hearts of ‘bad’ police are changed.”