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Is police brutality a major problem in America? Many activists, politicians, and the media would have you believe that it is. But what does the actual data say? Rafael Mangual, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Criminal (In)Justice, presents the facts.
The public’s reaction to the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis in January 2023 has been virtually unanimous: a clear-cut case of police brutality.
The cops agree.
Police executives, rank-and-file officers, and union representatives from across the country also expressed their strong disapproval.
The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Patrick Yoes, denounced the incident as “a criminal assault under the pretext of law.”
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell described the Memphis officers’ conduct as “disgraceful.”
Here’s why they’re right.
After the initial encounter with Nichols, bodycam footage shows one officer saying to another that Nichols “made me [pepper] spray myself.”
A second officer seemed agitated at having had his glasses knocked off during the struggle, later saying “I hope they stomp his ass.”
A third appeared to have hurt his leg in the melee.
None of this excuses kicks to the head, punches to the face, or baton strikes doled out to a man who was not resisting. What it looked like was an unjustifiable beating handed out by hotheads.
Though it’s little consolation to Nichols’s family, Memphis authorities didn’t hesitate in punishing the offending officers. All five were swiftly terminated, arrested, and indicted for their outrageous behavior.
But this isn’t enough for some.
“We need to show the world what lessons we can learn from this tragedy,” District Attorney Steve Mulroy said during the press conference in which the charges were announced.
Perhaps the lesson is simply this: policing is a human endeavor and is therefore subject to the shortcomings of inherently flawed human beings, which means that some people, cops included, will sometimes act out of malevolence.
To the activists, however, bad police officers are not the exception, they’re the rule.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, grumbled about “[t]he effort to separate the officers who murdered Tyre Nichols from the system of policing that produced them,” going on to assert that “Charges alone aren’t justice. Change is.”
But there’s good reason to separate the officers who beat Nichols from the institution of policing: their actions constituted a sharp departure from police training and practice. The available data show this to be true.
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