Memphis police stopped Tyre Nichols on the night of January 7th due to alleged reckless driving. Five officers surrounded and beat him with such force that he was hospitalized for three days until he tragically passed from his injuries. Initially, the officers involved in murdering Nichols were only fired. However, ahead of the public release of the video of the assault, the Memphis District Attorney decided to charge the five cops with second-degree murder, among other charges. Organizing by Nichols’ family and community following his death put pressure on the DA to investigate and press charges against the officers, something that does not usually happen.
The brutal murder of Tyre Nichols is not an isolated incident. It is not due to “a few bad apples” acting outside regular police training. Police departments around the country routinely engage in “hot spot” policing. This police tactic involves cops dressed as civilians going into primarily Black and working-class neighborhoods to instigate and harass people until they do something that can be perceived as breaking the law, only to be met with disproportionate, violent action. In Memphis, the SCORPION unit carried out this type of policing. Officers from this unit harassed Tyre Nichols, purposely provoking him until they could exaggerate something into a “reason” to begin assaulting him.
These provocative efforts by police departments around the country claim to prevent crime when often they create crime where there is none. “Driving recklessly,” as the SCORPION unit alleged Tyre Nichols did, is not punishable by execution. It is essential to mobilize and protest this murder as it sets a broader precedent around the country of what the police can and can’t do. We must act now. We must build a fighting movement to convict all killer cops, demilitarize the police, and bring public safety under democratic community control.
Despite the mass mobilization of working-class people and youth across the country in 2020 to oppose police racism and brutality, police killed a record 100 people per month in 2022. The BLM movement’s failure to reduce killings and brutality by police can be attributed to the leaders of the BLM organization and similar non-profits taking the movement out of the streets in favor of endorsing Democratic candidates in national, state, and local elections. Democratic politicians hold mayorships and majorities in city councils across the country, including Memphis. These politicians repaid the support of activists during the 2020 elections with betrayals once in office. Rather than investing in non-violent public safety measures and social spending to fight poverty and poverty-related crimes, Democratic governments across the country armed police with military-grade weapons and implemented policies that target and harass Black and working-class neighborhoods. To win lasting change, the movement against police brutality must break from the Democratic Party.
We must put police departments under the control of democratically elected civilian boards that have the final say in all the decisions, structures, and spending of police departments with the ability to hire, fire, investigate, and arrest police officers suspected of misconduct. These civilian boards need to carry out serious reforms in the police departments by stripping them of certain responsibilities and creating new public safety organizations separate from the police who are trained to respond to mental health and medical crises in our communities. These civilian boards need to dramatically reduce spending, cut pay, disband unnecessary units like SCORPION and other units that specialize in tactics like hot spot policing, and move these funds to community public safety committees run by neighborhoods. Arresting and criminalizing poverty is not the answer. Police enforce racist, unjust, and exploitative laws that underpin the capitalist system. To overcome systemic racism and police brutality, we need to replace the capitalist system with democratic control of the economy, our communities, and society as a whole.
The Independent Socialist Group condemns the killing of Tyre Nichols and calls for the following:
- Convict all killer cops, past and present.
- End hot spot, broken windows, and similar racist policing tactics that target and harass working-class communities.
- Slash bloated police budgets and fully fund social services such as mental health services, housing, healthcare, education, transit, and more.
- Demilitarize the police: remove all military-grade equipment from police departments across the country.
- Elect community boards with control over the police and all aspects of public safety, including hiring, firing, training, priorities, and budgets.
- Rebuild a mass anti-racist movement in the streets independent of the two corporate parties. Organize democratically elected community committees to organize protest support, medical treatment, legal services, community self-defense efforts, and responses to police and right-wing escalation.
- Solidarity between the labor movement and the anti-racist and anti-police brutality movement. The police are used to attack labor struggles, communities of color, and the working class as a whole. Unions should mobilize their membership and utilize their resources to help fight against police brutality and support protests. They should organize workplace actions to win the movement’s demands.
- Build a workers’ party that can offer alternatives to the policies of racism and austerity advocated by both the Democratic and Republican Parties. We need an independent party composed of workers, youth, unions, activists, and community members, free from corporate money. This party can fight to slash police budgets, fund social services, and organize democratic workers’ control of our communities, workplaces, and society as a whole.
- As Malcolm X said, “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” The capitalist class uses racism to protect their profits by dividing the workers’ movement. In order to defeat racism in its entirety, we must do away with capitalism and the incentives it creates for racism, and instead fight for a socialist society in which workers have democratic control of the economy and government.
Act now against racism and police brutality by joining a protest in your area! In Worcester, MA, ISG is organizing two events in the coming days:
- A standout at City Hall tonight (Monday) at 5:30, and
- A public meeting at Clark University tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7pm.