Why The UK Should Be Paying Attention To The Death Of Tyre Nichols

Almost a thousand of people are gathered at the Oscar Grant Plaza and take streets over Tyre Nichols killing by Memphis police, in Oakland, California.
Almost a thousand of people are gathered at the Oscar Grant Plaza and take streets over Tyre Nichols killing by Memphis police, in Oakland, California.

Almost a thousand of people are gathered at the Oscar Grant Plaza and take streets over Tyre Nichols killing by Memphis police, in Oakland, California.

Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by Memphis police earlier this month and died days later, sparking protests across the US – and triggering concern in the UK too.

The 29-year-old Black man was pulled over by officers while driving on January 7. Newly-released police footage shows he was aggressively dragged out of the car, and thrown to the ground, while saying: “I’m just trying to get home.”

Although he lay down quickly, when one officer tried to taser him, Nichols broke free from the officers and tried to run – only to be pepper sprayed.

Then he was punched and kicked all over by the police. Nichols can be heard crying out for his mother in the video clips released.

Now, the five officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

Many of the details around the incident are still quite murky; It’s unclear why police pulled him over in the first place, how long it was until Nichols was taken to hospital, or what the exact cause of his death was.

Even so, the incident has shaken the public consciousness both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s why.

1. It proves issues which surfaced after George Floyd still haven’t gone away

George Floyd’s death in 2020, after a police officer knelt on his throat, galvanised the global Black Lives Matter movement.

The horrific incident shone a light on Western societies in particular to make people more aware of their own unconscious bias, be mindful of micro-aggressions and racism in general towards people of colour.

But almost three years on, it shows that the world hasn’t changed as much as it needs to.

Think about Chris Kaba, the 24-year-old man who was shot dead by police in London in September.

Rapper Stormzy and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy all joined a huge protest which marched through Parliament Square, and ending up outside Scotland Yard, to demand justice for Kaba.

2. People of colour still feel threatened in the UK

In November 2022, a survey of more than 5,000 people by the crime and justice think tank Crest showed that the levels of trust in the police are lower among Black people than white people.

In the UK, just 46% of Black Brits trust officers, compared to 64% of white people.

The same survey found that Black people are more worried about crime and feel less protected by the law.

Statistics have previously shown that Black people are still seven times more likely to be targeted by stop and search procedures, too.

President of the National Black Police Association, Andy George, told The Guardian in November: “The disproportionate targeting of the Black community is having a traumatic and humiliating impact.

“The style and tone of stop and searches needs to be changed as four out of five people stopped have committed no crime.”

Campaigner Stafford Scott also claimed that the police were relying on “racist stereotypes”, telling the newspaper: “The police have, through their institutionally racist practices, lost all credibility and legitimacy when it comes to black communities in the UK, particularly in London.”

3. UK police are not immune to the systemic issues and biases reflected in the US policing

According to Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a lawyer and political and women’s rights activist, the UK and the US police forces share similar issues.

She told Sky News: “Between George Floyd and today, nothing has changed.

“I very much doubt anything will change until we eradicate the source of this problem – which is white supremacy.”

She said that it “underpins” the policing and criminal justice system in both the US and the UK.

“It shapes a culture which sees Black people as less, sees Black people as disposable and ensures that Black lives don’t matter.”

The activist also pointed out that the officers who attacked Nichols were people of colour.

She said the very system produces both “racist white cops and racial gatekeeping Black and Brown cops”, and that “good police are the exception, not the norm” right now.

Indeed, the scrutiny the Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest police force, has been under recently has highlighted issues related to both sex and race among its ranks.

More than half of Black British police officers endured racial incidents from colleagues throughout 2022, according to a survey from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), with a top police chief even admitting in the past that there is a “race crisis” affecting the profession.