Commentary: The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police has us still saying ‘I can’t breathe’

Commentary: The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police has us still  saying ‘I can’t breathe’
February 04
08:03 2023

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Heinous and horrific are two words that come to mind after watching the video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols.

Like you, I viewed this senseless act and wondered, how do you lose your life over a traffic stop? How do you sound the way you do and act the way you do over a traffic stop?

Yet five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, sounded and acted in a way that led them to unleash a terror attack on Tyre Nichols.

I watched this tirade feeling numb and sick.

The question which we have asked before is: why is this still happening in the United States of America? Have lessons not been learned from similar tragedies involving Black men?

The beating and subsequent death were unnecessary. That is my opinion.

Tyre Nichols was minutes away from his mom’s house on Jan. 7.

In the video, you could hear him screaming for his mom. This young man 29 years of age crying out for help is a scene that will forever be emblazoned in our memories.

Tyre Nichols died three days later in the hospital from the injuries he suffered.

The City of Memphis has fired the five police officers and they have been charged with murder. These five officers were a part of the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in our Neighborhood) unit, created in October 2021. It has now been disbanded. Its purpose, according to reports, was to concentrate on crime hot spots. Observers of similar groups say their tactics are aggressive and abusive.

This played out in the death of Tyre Nichols.

The names of the officers charged in his death are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr and Justin Smith. All these police officers are African American.

Former police officers are calling into question the tactics used by them. Ed Davis, a former police commissioner in Boston, Massachusetts said, “It’s not logical to me anymore that any police department in this country could do that type of punishment that we saw.”

He added, “Was it a problem in the United States? Yes, it was. Is it still a problem in places? Obviously, we see this in Memphis.”

Many of us are seeing there are communities that don’t practice best police procedures and training. Is it they aren’t taught what to do or is it that they just won’t do it? It is upsetting that to protect and to serve has lost some of its luster. Bad police have given good police a bad reputation.

The perception of the police is not good, and the Tyre Nichols tragedy has only created a bigger problem. Georgetown Law professor Paul Butler said, “One of the ironies of this video is if these officers weren’t in uniform and badges, the same thing could have happened to them. That does not mean that they’re not as biased as any other officers.”

He also said, “Statistically, Black men and women suffer the same kind of threat from Black and Latinx officers as they do from white officers.”

Tyre Nichols wasn’t going to get a pass because he paid a skin tax.

Some question if the victim had been white, would he have been beaten almost to death?

What I do know is that as Black men, we have to be cautious and careful when we are in the public square. We cannot afford to drop our guard because if we do, the consequences can be fatal. 

Dying and passing away is something that we will all experience. It is simply a part of our living.

Being beaten literally to death is totally different and is unacceptable in our society.

The five men charged now have lawyers. What can be their defense?

If you are one of the five and did nothing but saw everything, then you are a part of this horror story as your hands are just as soiled and just as tainted. This is my opinion.

America mourns for Tyre Nichols because a piece of our humanity was lost when he was fatally assaulted by the police.

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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