Tyre Nichols was murdered by Memphis PD during a traffic stop at the beginning of January. He was a 29-year-old father to a 4-year-old son and he loved skateboarding and photography. He should’ve been able to raise his child and live his life in peace, but instead, like countless others in America, he was executed by cops. Unironically, the Memphis pigs who killed Nichols were part of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods or SCORPION Unit. I will never share the video of Nichols being murdered so instead, I want the policing that executed him abolished. Cops have always been unhinged in their barbarism, but watching assault after murder after assault by cop proves that the only way to achieve real safety and justice is by getting rid of the police. Policing is inherently violent, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, and whorephobic (Hawaiʻi cops are just as evil as everywhere else) and exists to crush and destroy people, which the Memphis cops did to Tyre Nichols. No matter who the cops were who executed Nichols, they were still cops and they did precisely what policing was meant to do—steal, kill, and destroy. They are legally allowed to lie to, steal from, cheat, break, and disappear people without any retribution, and we are forced to watch them do whatever they want, as we see with Tyre Nichols.
When videos of police terror are rapidly spread, calls for justice are often immediately amplified. These demands tend to be focused on firings, charges brought, thorough training for police departments, and incarceration for every cop involved, but as my friend Micah Herskind writes, “Police don’t kill because they’re improperly trained, they kill because it’s part of their job. Training doesn’t take away the power to kill—disarming and defunding do.” We will never find justice in the criminal legal system that currently exists, because that system is fundamentally racist and violent—one that will always result in more incarcerated and/or dead Black, Brown, poor people. In a 2019 New York Times opinion column about the injustices of policing, Dereka Purnell and Marbre Stahly-Butts wrote, “But the police do not help vulnerable populations — they make populations vulnerable. Excessive force is the No. 1 investigated complaint against police officers, and sexual violence is the second. People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police. People of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, queer and trans people, those with mental illness and the homeless disproportionately experience violence from officers, who kill an average of nearly 1,000 people annually, and sexually assault, physically assault, harass, and surveil hundreds of thousands more.” We like to believe that removing the “bad apples” from the police departments across America will keep BIPOC safe from state sanctioned violence, but there are no bad apples. Every cop is a bad cop. For every cop caught assaulting or murdering a person on camera, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who stand by and say or do nothing. And inaction in the face of injustice is just as bad as participating in the brutal act. If we truly want justice and peace for our nonwhite members of society, and especially Black people, we absolutely need to focus on police abolition. Any reform or steps behind police abolition will continue to see more people murdered by pigs and communities traumatized by an absence of accountability. Like my penpal Lacino Hamilton (who also believes in police abolition) wrote, “When people talk about things like body cameras, things like community policing and holding individual police accountable, they are attempting to restore faith in an institution that does not, and never has, served the interest of the entire community. Police serve property owners, business owners, landlords, religious leaders, people who are well established. They do not ‘for real for real’ serve vulnerable populations like people of color, women, youth, immigrants, trans people, the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, and too many others to list. So what tends to happen is this very limited idea of community empowers the kind of zero tolerance, broken windows oriented, constant harassment, physical, even deadly coercive police action. We have to come to grips with the real function of the police—which incidentally is to keep order, not the peace.”
Critical Resistance—a PIC abolition organization founded by famous abolitionists Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Y. Davis, and Rose Braz—shared the above chart about different strategies we can implement in the process of accomplishing police abolition as we experience no safety in our current system. These realistic steps are the solutions that reformists and non-abolitionists often request when abolition itself sounds like a far-fetched task. In our journey toward a just society without prisons, police, and other parts of the prison industrial complex, we need to follow leaders like those I previously mentioned who have dedicated their entire lives to the omission of state sanctioned violence so we never have to lose someone like Tyre Nichols again.