In 1973, the Afro American Police Association was founded to help recruit more Black police officers to the Memphis Police Department.
The thinking was that Black police officers would be more understanding and compassionate to Black Memphians than their white counterparts, while still upholding the law.
It was created to demonstrate that effective policing could happen without brutality and misconduct.
That’s why, in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of five Black police officers, the organization issued a blistering statement labeling the since-fired officers as “monstrous males” who “have disgraced God, the AAPA, the Memphis Community, the police badge and every good/decent law enforcement officer in this nation.”
The statement also includes condolences and apologies to Nichols’ family and all Memphians, followed by praise for Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy for swiftly bringing criminal charges in the case.
The AAPA also pledges to “do everything in our power to assist in ridding the nation of rogue and corrupt cops.”
As damning as the AAPA statement was, Executive Director Tyrone Currie had more choice words about the since-fired officers and the carnage left in their wake.
“We’ve always believed that the police and the community working together can come up with solutions to reduce crime in our community and be a beacon of light for the entire community,” said Currie, a retired lieutenant, who serviced for 28 years before leaving the MPD in 2019.
“This association sued the City of Memphis in federal court to get more Black police officers on the job. And to see black officers do what they did to Tyre Nichols? That was a slap in the face of 50 years of work that we did.”
Currie continued, “And they destroyed that in three minutes. … Can you imagine how that makes us feel?”
None of the officers involved in Nichols’ death — Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr., Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Tadarrius Bean — were AAPA members, Currie said.
And he said that he knew something horrible had happened once he heard that Nichols had died from the injuries he suffered during what should have been a simple traffic stop.
“How did this happen? How did a so-called traffic stop violation end up in a man’s death?” asked Currie, who spent five years as a patrol officer early in his career.
“A traffic stop is a low-risk stop. Nobody should have died on a low-risk stop, especially when there’s not a weapon involved. Based on my experience, it just didn’t make sense,” he said.
As more details surfaced, the MPD fired the officers, and within days charges were filed, including second-degree murder against all five.
But even as the city braced for expected rioting once video footage of the incident was released, Currie said he wasn’t concerned about Memphis going up in flames.
“I wasn’t afraid that Memphis was going to burn,” he said. “I was concerned about our members. I felt for the officers on the street because I knew that they were gonna have to endure long hours. They’re gonna have to endure ridicule.
“I was more concerned about the division that was going to come between the police and the community,” he added. “Man, we’re hurt. You know, all of us are hurt. I knew we were gonna have some protests, but I never thought Memphis citizens would burn down the city.”
And when the video was released, Currie said he felt obligated to watch it.
“I knew I needed to watch it – to make an informed decision and an informed statement even talking to (media),” Currie said. “And I wanted to (watch) because – keep in mind, these were African American men, officers that our organization had fought so hard to get on the job. So, I had to watch it.”
His gut reaction?
“When we saw that, I mean . . .” he said, his voice trailing off. “Man, tears came from my eyes. How could you abuse one of our citizens that we swore an oath to protect? How can you violate your oath like that? How could you violate humanity like that?
“You destroyed the trust that the community had in us. You destroyed the trust that the nation had in us. And you destroyed this woman’s child.
“You know, that could have been my child. Or my nephew or a friend of mine. You didn’t ask the boy’s name or nothing, you just pulled him out of the car and went from zero to 100, unprovoked. That’s not professional at all. And the man was unarmed? Naw, we can’t stand by that…
“You embarrassed the entire nation to Black people, man. You embarrassed the badge. You embarrassed the Afro American Police Association and it was a disgrace. It was a total disgrace.”
Currie also lamented how far Memphis policing has fallen since 2002, when MPD received national acclaim for its community policing program.
“(MPD) found a strategy to incorporate the community, the schools and the businesses in their churches in their crime-fighting strategy. And we won (national acclaim) because of how we used the resources in the community.
“The community helped us fight crime. They reported crime, they told us who the criminals were. We didn’t have to guess.
“And we met with our criminals. We knew who the criminals were. It wasn’t a stranger in the community.
“In community policing, we would have known that a guy like Tyre Nichols (wasn’t a criminal), because we would have invited him to our community meetings.”
Over the years, Currie said, the political landscape shifted away from community policing, taking precious resources and diverting them to special units like SCORPION, the now-disbanded unit that the arrested former officers belonged to.
“We used to have community substations in every part of the city, with a mission to build a rapport and a relationship with the community that you worked in,” he said. “They got away from it over the years; now you only got one substation left. And you reduced the resources for it. What sense does that make?
“Then you take those resources and put them into units like SCORPION,” he continued. “Just think: What if they would’ve had those resources in the community policing unit?”