Tyre Nichols’ Murder and the Cause of the Larger Issue of Police Brutality in America

Ella Pedroso, Senior Design Editor

Every day consists of a new name pronounced dead, a new headline, a new Instagram story to repost and a repeat of it the next day. The constant martyrdom of a life lost to police brutality has become so normal in today’s world, and so lost in the sea of madness that we fail to step back and look at the bigger picture; I do not believe the police are there to protect us, but instead, they are there to protect their own power. On Jan. 10, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols became another name lost in the headlines. 

After a violent arrest where five police officers brutally beat him, Nichols passed away three days later in the hospital. Returning home from a park, police officers pulled Nichols over for an unsubstantiated case of reckless driving. It included two confrontations, the latter including the beating of Nichols, as shown in multiple videos released on Jan. 27. One body camera video shows one police officer forcefully pulling and pushing Nichols to the ground, while a second officer approaches him with his gun drawn. In the video, an officer threatens to break Nicols’ hands if he does not put them down. Enduring the violence, Nichols cooperates with the officers, telling them he just wants to go home. Ignoring Nichols, one cop points his taser gun at him, while another pepper sprays him. Soon after, Nichols breaks free, understandably making a run for his life. 

Nichols knew how police abuse their power; his running was not an act of defiance but a survival instinct learned through generational trauma and intrinsic knowledge of steering clear from corrupt police. 

An elevated surveillance camera shows the second video, where police beat Nichols in another location. The video shows two officers holding Nichols down, while another kicks him in the face. A fourth expands a baton and begins to beat Nichols from the back. Nichols then stood up until an officer punched him repeatedly until he collapsed. 

The third video reveals audio and video footage of the beating, where the officer repeatedly sprays Nichols with pepper spray. As an officer yells at Nichols to give him his hands, Nichols pleads for his mother. “Mom, Mom, Mom,” Nichols yells, while the officer wearing the bodycam screams vulgar words while saying he will baton Nichols. 

In the fourth video, bodycam footage shows an officer chasing and beating Nichols to the ground, revealing more shouting for Nichols’ mom and more audio of the officers yelling degrading obscenities towards Nichols. The video then shows his arrest and Nichols’ bleeding head. When more officers arrive at the scene, the officers recount how they chased down Nichols, one officer warning another of his bodycam. 

Three days after the arrest, Nichols struggled to breathe and called an ambulance; succumbing to his injuries, Nichols passed away. Nichols’ stepfather claims that he suffered from cardiac arrest and kidney failure, although the hospital has not yet released an official cause of death to the public. 

Friends and family continue to defend Nichols’ character and describe him as a father that was well-known in his community. I have heard this story so many times, I could read it like the back of my hand: a black person loved by friends and family, victim to police brutality, police officers fired. When will it stop? We keep calling these the “bad cops,” and placing a bandaid on a bullet wound through “relieving them of duty.” 

The words spoken in the bodycam footage and the bragging of the police officers show just how much power has gone to their heads. With every punch, kick and shot, police officers get a kick out of abusing their power. On Feb. 7, documents from the Police Department revealed that one of the officers, Demetrius Haley, took a photo of Nichols post-beating, and sent it to at least five people. What gave police the power and right to murder, and how can we stop failing to properly find a solution? 

A coincidence does not explain why police officers keep committing hateful murders; capitalism has curated this career for this type of evil. The central cause of police brutality lies at the root: capitalism’s use of police power as a weapon to defend the state’s ultimate rule. The spread of capitalism relies on a certain form of production, social organization and ideologies, thriving on state-sanctioned exploitation of oppressed groups. Throughout history, racial domination has secured capitalism’s social dominance. 

Understanding the history behind the creation and enforcement of police power reveals the truth: class and race define crime, and through police, the capital decides right and wrong. Origins of police in the U.S. existed as slave patrol, authority over immigrants who came to work, and command over any working-class citizen trying to make ends meet. The police known today keep the same objective of stepping on the working class to climb the social ladder, disguising violence as “keeping the world safe.” 

 In order to protect social domination, police ensure stability through force and intimidation, putting down any threats to the social order and harming the working class. When members of the working class resort to survival in a capitalist state through protest against injustice, the capitalist law shuts it down. 

As long as the gap between the capitalist state and the working class exists, police brutality will exist with it. Pro-reform ideology calls to keep the police system and simply reform it. But, as previously referenced, reforming or defunding the police fails to change the police’s existence as the top weapon of radical capitalist social order. Government action cannot reform police on the side of the oppressed and working class, as it would dismantle capitalism’s rule. 

People defend the existence of the police, claiming we need protection from violence and crimes, but the police were created to defend capitalism: the prime source of violence among the working class. Think about the causes of gang-related crimes, drug dealing, theft and poverty and connect capitalism, the state and police power as the source of violence and oppression in The U.S. 

As an alternative for police, measures should focus on preventing crime before it happens. If your house gets robbed or you get assaulted, police do not change the crime from already happening. 50 years of data show that police only solve around 2% of crimes. When it comes to crime, most connect back to the environment capitalism has created. For example, a robbery: robbers do not rob houses for the fun of it, capitalism has encouraged crime in a society where people need money to survive, and turn to crime if needed. The corporate, capitalist structure encourages violent crime through the destruction of labor (cutting wages and poor working environments). When it comes to violent crimes, we must prevent them through the abolition of capitalism by shifting focus to mental health and creating a society where people lack the desire to hurt others for personal gain. 

 If we want to stop the stream of names lost to police brutality, the only solution lies in the complete abolition of the state, capitalism and police; only then will the dangers of capitalism, which encourage crime and violence as a means to survive, release the shackles held on the hands of the oppressed class.