When "Public Safety" Is Public Endangerment: Tyre Nichols, Traffic Stops, and Racialized Terror

By , CPE Staff

 On Jan. 7, Memphis Police officers pulled over a 29-year-old father, photographer, and skateboarder for "reckless driving" and proceeded to brutalize him; three days later, Tyre Nichols died of his injuries. On Jan. 27, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) released extensive bodycam and pole cam footage of the killing, for which five officers have been charged with second-degree murder and two others have been suspended.

The list of people for whom low-level traffic stops turned fatal is heart-wrenchingly long, an alarmingly disproportionate number of the victims, Black. Tyre Nichols, Keenan Anderson, Michael Dean, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Patrick Lyoya, Jayland Walker, Duante Wright—all stolen from their loved ones and communities by police officers empowered to visit violence on whoever they chose to pull over for broken taillights, unregistered license plates, or failing to signal a lane change. In Tyre Nichols' case, MPD Chief Cerelyn Davis has said she's seen no proof that he had been driving "recklessly."

In the aftermath of the MPD videos' release, representatives of CPE appeared in a number of media outlets to address not just the specifics of Tyre Nichols's horrific death, but the broader context in which it must be seen. The racialized terror visited on Black people since before this country's founding, the mandate agents of the state have to visit violence on Black individuals and communities, and the particular expression these have been given in the seemingly banal tool of traffic stops are all elemental to the story of why one 29-year-old father never made it home that night.

However, as CPE Co-founder and CEO Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff noted in conversation with NPR's Ari Shapiro, CPE has engaged with several localities that are now removing badges and guns from such low-level stops—from Connecticut to Missouri, New York to California. Each policy change has been particular to the locality, its circumstances, and community needs, but road safety has not been compromised. On the contrary: As this pilot program in South Bend, IN demonstrates, when cities invest in new approaches to traffic safety, they not only remove opportunities for escalation into violence, safety is improved for everyone.

Listen to Dr. Goff's NPR interview and see all CPE’s recent media appearances below, and read more CPE’s approach to traffic safety redesign and racially disparate policing outcomes here.



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