Faith leaders react to Tyre Nichols police video beating with grief, goals

Adelle M. Banks/Religion News Service | 2/2/2023, 6 p.m.
Religious leaders reacted swiftly — with legislative appeals and collective grief — to the release of video footage of police …
Protesters march Jan. 27 in Memphis, Tenn., as authorities release police video depicting five Memphis officers beating Tyre Nichols, whose death resulted in murder charges and provoked outrage at the country’s latest instance of police brutality. Photo by Associated Press

Religious leaders reacted swiftly — with legislative appeals and collective grief — to the release of video footage of police officers beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died days after a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn.

Church of God in Christ Presiding Bishop J. Drew Sheard, whose historically Black denomination has its headquarters in Memphis, issued a statement Jan. 27 addressing the “shocking death” of Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker who died on Jan. 10 in a local hospital.

“We understand the frustration and outrage of citizens at the brutal nature of the death of yet another Black man by those committed to serve and protect,” Bishop Sheard said in comments released in writing and via video. “Our heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”

He said his denomination commends the police department’s quick termination of officers involved in the beating and the “appropriate charges” filed against them.

“We unequivocally applaud the daily commitment of most police officers and appreciate their willingness to put their lives on the line,” Bishop Sheard added. “However, we cannot ignore that many individuals have experienced unjust targeting, humiliation, loss of physical freedom, physical harm, and even death at the hands of relatively few officers.”

Other faith leaders expressed grief and offered prayers for Mr.Nichols’ family, as well as called for national and state legislation. Some questioned whether the video of the police beating of Mr. Nichols should be watched.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry grieved that there was “not one Good Samaritan” who would immediately offer medical assistance to a severely wounded Mr. Nichols but expressed appreciation for those who have protested peacefully and continue to seek the “justice for all” proclaimed in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“While we grieve, we cannot give in or give up,” Bishop Curry said in a statement. “Just throwing up our hands in despair is not an option lest we leave a brother, a sister, a sibling on the side of the road again. No, let more Good Samaritans arise so that Tyre Nichols’ death will not be in vain.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber, who said his “heart goes out to the Nichols family,” wrote a thread of comments on Twitter urging Christians “filled with the fruit of the Spirit” to consider entering police forces.

“If law enforcement is God’s calling upon your life but your heart overflows with compassion for someone crying out to his mother while being beaten to death, embrace that calling while maintaining that compassion,” he said. “You can make a difference.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who eulogized Mr. Nichols on Wednesday, expressed gratitude for the Justice Department’s opening of a civil rights investigation after Mr. Nichols’ death.

“The sad reality is police brutality will be an ever-present threat for Black and Brown Americans unless cops continually see that those who use blunt force will go to jail,” Mr. Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said in a statement. “They need to understand that a badge isn’t a shield that lets them kill someone during a traffic stop. And the only way to do that is through convictions and legislation.”

Progressive National Baptist Convention President David Peoples criticized the “rabid disregard for human life and the sheer abuse of public trust” by the five officers depicted in the video.

“The culture of policing in America is violent, unaccountable, and anti-Black, even when it involves Black police officers,” he said. The police officers involved in the beating of Mr. Nichols are Black.

In a statement Friday, President Biden cited the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that would hold law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.

“That is why I called on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to my desk,” the president said. “When they didn’t, I signed an executive order that included stricter use of force standards and accountability provisions for federal law enforcement, as well as measures to strengthen accountability at the state and local level.”