Addressing police reform in a prebuttal to Gov. Lee's statewide address on Monday, House Democratic Leader Karen Camper said, "I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. The misdeeds of a few bad apples. ... But we are not powerless. It’s not destiny. We can prevent future tragedies." (Screen capture)

With Gov. Bill Lee set to deliver his fifth State of the State address on Monday, House Democratic Leader Karen Camper is calling upon Gov. Bill Lee and the Republican supermajority to join state Democrats in their efforts to end police brutality.

Lee will address a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly in the House Chamber of the Tennessee State Capitol at 6 p.m. (CST).

In a videotaped message released Saturday, Camper said, “Let us show the nation that we can work together and serve justice for Tyre Nichols and all the victims of police brutality. Police work and public safety is not an easy job, but high moral standards and accountability must win every day … from the inside out … from officers on the street to judges on the bench.”

Reformed policing was one of several focuses Camper invited Lee and state Republicans to work with Democrats on in a rejection of “the familiar politics of division.” Specifically, she detailed affordability in healthcare, childcare and housing; strengthening public schools; respecting the contributions of working families; and fixing the crisis at the Department of Children’s Services.

Released on what was dubbed a National Day of Action in the wake of the videotaped beating of the 29-year-old Nichols by Memphis police (Jan. 7), Camper’s “prebuttal” to Lee’s upcoming State of the State made an early reference to the tragedy that befell Nichols, whose funeral was Wednesday.

“The shockwaves from his brutal and senseless murder have jolted our community, our state, and the entire nation,” said Camper, who represents District 87 in Memphis and is a declared candidate for mayor. “I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. The misdeeds of a few bad apples. I wish I could say it will never happen again. But we all know this isn’t true.”

Still, said, Camper, “We can prevent future tragedies. But we must first summon the courage to admit that law can only do so much. It’s the very culture inside many of our police departments that needs to change.”

As for the legal route, there are burgeoning calls for federal legislation, namely passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has stalled in Congress since first introduced in 2020.

At Nichols’ funeral, family attorney Benjamin Crump shared that Houston-based Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who was in attendance, planned to introduce a new version of the legislation after President Joe Biden’s the State of the Union Address (Feb. 7th), and that it would include a Tyre Nichols Duty to Intervene element.

During a recent press conference by the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr., part of the legal team for Nichols’ family, pressed for the Tennessee General Assembly to pass a Tyre D. Nichols criminal justice reform bill.

“We do not need to let Tyre Nichols’ death be in vain,” said Turner, who also is a declared candidate for mayor. “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.”

In the wake of Nichol’s death (Jan. 10), Democratic state lawmakers have filed several bills dealing with reforming policing tactics and the criminal justice system, although none specifically designated as a Tyre D. Nichols criminal justice reform bill.

However, some of those are caption bills, which are specifically vague bills filed to meet the filing deadline and that we will be amended later with specifics.

In a released statement regarding the death of Nichols, Gov. Lee said, “Cruel, criminal abuse of power will not be tolerated in the State of Tennessee. These individuals do not represent the honorable men & women of law enforcement, & they must be brought to justice for this tragic loss of life.

“The city of Memphis & the Memphis Police Department needs to take a hard look at the misconduct & failure that has occurred within this unit. I discussed this with mayor Strickland & am pleased the city is pursuing an external, impartial investigation.”

Lee has set up his State of the State address with a social media post in which he asserted that “Tennessee is leading the nation, and I look forward to sharing my budget and legislative priorities for the upcoming year that will ensure we remain a standard bearer for opportunity, security and freedom.

With the belief that “our state’s best days are ahead,” Lee added, “together with the General Assembly, we will continue working to make life better for all Tennesseans.”

Camper’s conclusion ahead of Lee’s address included this: “There are many ways we can better serve our children and families, and we ask the Governor to join us in finding solutions to real problems.”