PERKINS: In Memphis, Justice Is Turned Back
It was a somber scene in Memphis on Wednesday — a scene Americans have lived through with tragic frequency these past few years. As mourners filled Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church to remember 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, the senselessness of his death at the hands of five police officers reverberated through the pews. “Tyre was a beautiful person,” an emotional RowVaughn Wells said of her son, “and for this to happen to him is just unimaginable.” But as Tyre’s stepdad, Rodney Wells, reminded the congregation, “What’s done in the dark will always come to light.”
Savagely beaten by policemen who pulled him over on the night of January 7 for reckless driving, Nichols’s injuries were so severe that Tyre died three days later. After an autopsy, federal investigation, and the release of body cam footage, the officers responsible were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct, and official oppression.
“We all want the same thing,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy insisted. “We want justice for Tyre Nichols. It’s my hope that if there is any silver lining to be drawn from this very dark cloud, it’s that perhaps this incident can open a broader conversation about the need for police reform.”
As someone who was active in law enforcement on the streets for about 10 years — only to have my career cut short when I objected to the excessive force my department used against peaceful pro-life protestors — I’m very cautious about jumping to conclusions in these situations. Like many of you, I’ve watched video of the Nichols incident and can’t find any justification for what I saw. I didn’t see any provocation that would warrant the brutal actions of the officers. It was beyond disturbing. Ultimately, these five officers will have their day in court when the evidence will be presented, but I’m not sure how they can possibly counter the extensive video footage of their actions.
Not surprisingly, the release of the body cam footage has triggered what has become the standard reaction —demonstrations for justice, while others use the incident to excuse more rioting and lawlessness. Not quite three years ago, Minneapolis also erupted in chaos and anarchy that spread across the country when George Floyd died in the custody of officer Derek Chauvin, after the policeman suffocated Floyd with a knee to his neck. Fueling the coast-to-coast firestorm was the fact that Floyd was black and Chauvin is white.
The death of Tyre came at the hands of five black officers. Even so, the Left is still trying to make this an issue of systemic racism — an argument that hardly holds water in a city where even the police chief is a black female. Maybe race isn’t the primary factor that many have tried to make it in these cases of police brutality. Maybe it’s something deeper and more fundamental. Maybe it’s a loss of morality, of right and wrong.
As shocking as the videos are, what was just as unsettling is the fact that these officers engaged in this violence knowing that their body cams were recording their words and actions. Did they actually consider what they were doing acceptable behavior?
With each horrific incidence of police brutality, the only solutions people seem to bring to the table are calls for more reform. Back in 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is what led to the push for body cameras on all police officers.
Did that solve the problem? A report by The Washington Post on the use of body cams by the D.C. police didn’t show a reduction in the use of force. In fact, “citizen complaints against [those who did wear them and those who didn’t] were about even … buck[ing] early expectations about the impact of the devices.” At the time, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the results really “surprised department leaders” and were “not what we anticipated.” It seems that in many police interactions, “cameras didn’t make a difference.” That was 2017.
Three years later, when George Floyd’s death sparked a literal fire across U.S. cities, there was another wave of reforms: the banning of chokeholds and anti-bias training to name just two.
When the smoke clears from these demonstrations, what sort of reform measures will people lobby for next? Al Sharpton, who never lets a crisis go to waste, is vowing that “all roads lead to legislation.” During Wednesday’s eulogy, he promised, “This is not the end of a funeral, but the beginning of a movement around legislation.”
Of course, the irony of the Left’s latest rallying cry is that Republicans have been trying to negotiate common-sense legislation for years. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) made his 10th speech for police reform in the last eight years on Monday, blaming Democrats for the stalemate. On Sunday, Scott said, “Senator [Dick] Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Senator [Cory] Booker (D-N.J.) and I to come back to the table and start talking about policing in America. Well, I never left the table.” In fact, “it was Sen. Durbin who filibustered my Justice Act” in the first place.
But at the end of the day, while there are steps we can and should take to ensure that only the qualified wear the uniform, the Left’s feel-good reform efforts are not going to resolve the deeper problem that exists: the heart. Maybe it’s time Americans looked elsewhere.
In Isaiah 59:10-15, the prophet says:
We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.”
Is that not a picture of America? Truth has fallen in the street, and justice is lost. As long as America forsakes God and His word, justice and truth will not be found in our government, on our streets, or in our police departments. Until we turn back to God, embracing His truth and disregarding the naysayers and critics, lawlessness and injustice will only consume more in our nation.
Tony Perkins is president of Family Research Council and executive editor of The Washington Stand.