Firing of Memphis police officers signals progress, but also need for change: experts

Firing of Memphis police officers signals progress, but also need for change: experts

“One of the things that always gave me pause was that the conversations we had about race and policing were often conversations about individual racial prejudices of police officers and the ways in which those prejudices influenced the police force,” he said .

“The problem with this type of conversation isn’t that it’s imprecise, it’s that it’s incomplete. This is an incomplete understanding of the relationship between policing and race and racism.”

Bryan said he wasn’t surprised the incident didn’t spark international protests like the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota did, since most of the changes people are calling for were addressed in that case.

“The firing and the indictment and the initiation of this whole type of criminal justice process probably helped allay some of the concerns,” he said in an interview.

The Police Chiefs of Canada Association condemned the actions of the five Memphis officers, saying, “Leaders across Canada are saddened and appalled by the tragic and unnecessary death” of Nichols.

“As police leaders, we recognize that the actions of these officers will also erode trust in the police force in the United States and Canada and will tarnish the reputation of a majority of officers who have an unwavering commitment to public safety,” the statement said on Thursday.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said Nichols’ death shows how the use of excessive force can erode public trust in police departments, calling the CAFC statement “an impressive display of leadership.” “.

“I can’t help but commend their sensitivity (and) appreciation for the police force to maintain trust and confidence,” he said in an interview.

“I think there’s certainly a cultural shift as well, at least among many police chiefs in Canada, particularly in dealing with minorities and dealing with the issue of the excessive use of force,” he said. “This growing awareness is encouraging and hopefully we can make a difference, but we’re not there yet.”

Niemi said video footage of Nichols’ beatings also shows the need for all officers to wear body cameras and he is now urging all departments across Canada to implement them.

“Without body cams, we may not have the level of transparency and accountability that we see here in Memphis and across the United States,” he said.

Bryan said that while the CAFC statement is the “right thing,” it probably doesn’t “reflect a larger cultural shift in policing.”

“You can apologize for them, you can outrage them, but the underlying architecture of policing contributes to these outcomes,” he said.

Bryan said one notable aspect of this case is that all officers are black men. This signals the need to focus less on individual racism and more on the institution of policing and the role of officers in society.

“What this incident reveals much more clearly is the way policing is often understood by the police not as serving communities, but as enforcing communities,” he said.

“None of that changes just because you change the complexion of the officers.”

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver and Marisela Amador in Montreal.

— With files from Associated Press

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 30, 2023.

Brieanna Charlebois, Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press

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