Editor’s note: this story mentions death and police violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Last month, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers. Three days after the attack, Nichols succumbed to his injuries and died in the hospital. Now, the five officers responsible are facing murder charges. New reports further reveal that one of the officers took pictures of Nichols’ brutalized body and sent them to five people, according to NPR.
For abolitionists, Nichols’ beating and death is yet another case for abolition. On Twitter, the advancement project pointed out that, “Every police reform was present when they murdered Tyre Nichols.” Reforms included having more officers present, having body cameras, utilizing diverse officers, the removal of lethal weapons, etc., and yet Nichols still ended up dead. Given this disheartening reality, they concluded, “reforms will not protect us, only defunding the police and investing in our people will.”
Since 2020, the phrase “defund the police” has become popularized. This would mean taking money from policing and investing into infrastructure and communities. However, it’s picked up many opponents, including President Joe Biden. In his State of the Union address last night, he pushed for police reforms as cameras panned to Nichols’ family.
“Something good will come of this,” he noted, a statement which bears stark similarity to Nancy Pelosi thanking George Floyd for “sacrificing his life” although that’s not what it was.
This false sense of martyrdom is inaccurate, Abigail Weinberg wrote for Mother Jones. She said, “Floyd was not a martyr willingly sacrificing himself for a cause. He didn’t want to die, and his death shouldn’t have been a prerequisite for police reform.”
The same can be said for Tyre Nichols, who should still be alive. The truth is, reforms won’t change an inherently corrupt system. Since its inception, the American policing system has been flawed; it was derived from slave patrols, as evidenced by the loophole in the thirteenth amendment condoning slavery for people who commit crimes. Considering this brutal history of policing in America, abolition is the only way.