Memphis City Council members Tuesday (Feb. 21) passed on second reading a slate of reforms designed to reign in police practices and add oversight in response to the bludgeoning death of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers.
The council must pass the ordinances on three readings before becoming effective.
The six ordinances call for, among other things, changes in training, enforcement tactics, and data collection and review.
Nichols was pulled over near his Hickory Hill home on the night of Jan. 7, allegedly for driving recklessly and was immediately attacked by members of the department’s specialized SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) unit. Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said the reckless driving accusation has not been proven.
Nichols was transported from the scene to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition. He died Jan. 10.
During the public comments portion of the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, activists seeking justice for Nichols again called for the council to act. Several called for the ordinances to be made stronger, including numerous calls for police to stop making pretextual traffic stops.
“I just want to make a comment to the public. When we have items up for a second reading, there are no amendments made between the first and second reading,” said council Chairman Martavius Jones.
“Any time there’s an amendment made, as we discussed with the planning and zoning committee item, it is at the third reading. That’s when any type of proposed changes come about before this.”
Jones continued, “With the comments that you’ll be providing this afternoon, or this evening…those could be some of the recommended changes that could come about under the third reading.”
The ordinances in their current form include amending Memphis’ vehicle and traffic code “to clarify appropriate methods of enforcement of traffic violations.”
Besides pretextual traffic violation stops, there is a call to end stops unrelated to driving, such as expired tags and broken taillights.
Studies have shown that the public and police most commonly interact during traffic stops and that Black drivers are disproportionately targeted.
The ordinances also call for ending the use of unmarked cars and plain-clothed officers for traffic stops.
“What we want to do is make sure we’re ending that practice…using unmarked cars and plain-clothes officers. That we continue to reduce the amount of interactions people have with police in the city,” activist Joshua Adams told council members.
Five officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and felonies relate to Nichols death. A sixth officer also has been fired, along with three Fire Department EMTs.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice also are investigating Nichols’ death.