While applauding the actions of Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis and Shelby County District Atty. Gen. Steve Mulroy, Gloria Sweetlove, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, said, "We got to do more." (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

With the pursuit of “justice for Tyre” warranting a multi-pronged approach, a call for a “community oversight board that has subpoena power” was issued Sunday by Gloria Sweetlove, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP.

In Memphis, she teamed with the Memphis Branch NAACP to outline their collective next steps in the wake of the Jan. 10th death of Tyre D. Nichols and last Friday’s public release of graphic video footage of his savage beating (Jan. 7th) by now-former Memphis Police Department officers.

The five officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – last week were charged with second-degree murder, along with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping causing bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping while possessing a weapon, official misconduct through unauthorized exercise of official power, official misconduct through failure to perform a duty imposed by law and official oppression.

All the officers are African-American. The released video showed other officers on the scene, including at least one who was white, prompting community calls for accountability equity.

And today (Jan. 30), the Memphis Police Department announced that Preston Hemphill had been relieved of duty, with a commitment to updates in the ongoing investigation.

Last July, Preston Hemphill (right) became a member of the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team after joining the force in 2018. Also pictured: Assistant Chief Don Crowe. (Facebook)

Sweetlove spoke at a Sunday afternoon press conference at the Memphis Branch NAACP office, 588 Vance Ave.

“We must stop pushing things under the (rug),” she said while calling for a subpoena-empowered community oversight board.

Memphis has had the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) since 1994. While it has the authority to probe allegations of police misconduct, CLERB Chairman James Kirkwood has cited the need for more authority.

And, the CLERB board needs the power to directly gather information, including engaging officers accused of misconduct, Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. has said.

Also representing the NAACP national board of directors, Sweetlove acknowledged President Biden’s “delivery on our calls for an executive order on police reform” and then declared that it was not a substitute for meaningful legislation.

“We must have legislation that is effective throughout this country that makes sure that we stop the killing of Black men,” she said. “The NAACP continues to advocate for an end to qualified immunity, increased data collection on police encounters, the elimination of no-knock warrants, (and) standardization of comprehensive training requirements.”

Asserting that justice movements begin within communities, Sweetlove said, “We must know there’s an opportunity to take these policy issues on the state and local level.”

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr. said all the officers and first responders connected to the beating and subsequent death of Tyre N. Nichols “should be held accountable. … We want them to be terminated and we want them to suffer the consequences of their actions.) (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Memphis Branch President Van Turner Jr., also an attorney working with the Nichols family law team (led by Benjamin Crump, along with Antonio Romanucci), pressed for the Tennessee General Assembly to pass a Tyre Nichols criminal justice reform bill.

“We do not need to let Tyre Nichols’ death be in vain. We need the bill passed and we call on Governor Bill Lee…. That bill will feature teeth and it will feature true consequences if you (an officer) don’t intervene. We already have Eight Can’t Wait, duty to intervene, duty to render aid, duty to not have excessive chokeholds and other maneuvers that are used to kill people.

“We already have a ban against those, yet they didn’t work. In this case, we need a law that will make those duties and those provisions work. And we can put that in that bill, along with the George Floyd Criminal Justice Reform Act at the congressional and federal level.”

“Eight Can’t Wait” was a national campaign to bring immediate change to police departments. City officials have said they are practicing the eight policies:

  1. Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds
  2. Require De-escalation
  3. Require warning before shooting
  4. Exhaust all alternatives before shooting
  5. Duty to intervene
  6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  7. Require use of force continuum (1. Physical Presence. 2. Verbal Warnings. 3. Verbal Commands. 4. Chemical Agents. 5. Empty Hands Control (Soft and Hard). 6. Impact Weapons/Less Lethal Weapons/MPD Canine. 7. Deadly Force.)
  8. Require comprehensive reporting

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is stalled in Congress since last introduced in 2021 and first introduced the year before. Elements included a national registry of police misconduct, a federal, state and local-level ban on racial and religious profiling, and reworking qualified immunity that some argue limits the ability to hold law enforcement accountable.

Gloria Sweetlove, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, is flanked by Memphis Branch NAACP officers and members of the board of directors. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Sweetlove, a mother of four sons and three grandsons, said, the NAACP has “compassionate condolences” for Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and his family.

She directed a call to action at Congress.

“By failing to craft and pass bills to stop police brutality, you are writing another Black man’s obituary. The blood of Black America is on your hand,” she said.

“So stand up and do something. Stop letting it be partisan politics as usual and do something.”

And, said Sweetlove, “Anybody that was involved with it (the beating of Nichols), we want them persecuted; Anybody!”