‘I’m tired of the cycle of outrage.’ Northeastern community reflects on the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols

group of people gathered in a room listening to a speaker
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In the wake of yet another senseless killing of a Black man, Northeastern students, faculty and staff gathered to reflect on the state of police reform in the United States—an effort in the national spotlight again following the beating death of Tyre Nichols last month.

With Nichols fresh in their hearts and minds, many who turned out to Thursday’s event spoke about how pushing for systemic changes to policing—a movement that gained momentum after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020—can feel tiresome and defeating amid the continued cycle of police violence. 

And it can feel that way, many noted, because of how few reforms there have actually been.

“I’m tired of the cycle of outrage; the cycle of demanding police reform; the cycle of asking for changes in policy,” Melissa Niles, co-chair of the Northeastern chapter of the Black Law Students Association, said during Thursday’s event. “What does it say that Black lives are continuously being eliminated?”

The support galvanized in the aftermath of Floyd’s death aimed at police reform was sufficient to get lawmakers, policymakers and advocacy organizations thinking at scale about systemic changes. But Nichols’ death has prompted a reckoning with just how successful those efforts have been. There are now renewed calls to revive the George Floyd Police Act of 2021, which would, among other things, create a national database for police misconduct, increase body-worn camera usage and make it easier to prosecute police officers. 

The U.S. House of Representatives previously approved the legislation before it fell by the wayside in the Senate. 

“The problem with reform is you just make a nicer system of harm,” said Rahsaan Hall, a guest speaker and graduate of Northeastern’s School of Law. 

“Once upon a time, people believed that this system would provide justice for Black people whose bodies were broken by police, despite what they were doing,” Hall said. “Because they believed that if you limit what police could do, or if people just comply with the orders of police, then they won’t break their bodies.” 

The afternoon gathering, called “Saying Tyre Nichols’ Name,” convened Northeastern Law School faculty, who took turns sharing their thoughts on the work that’s still to be done to eliminate police violence.  

Attendees also spoke about the police body-cam footage released last week showing the brutal beating Nichols suffered at the hands of five Memphis police officers

“Once again we find ourselves coming together to say the name of another victim of police violence,” said Deborah Jackson, managing director of the Center for Law, Equity and Race at Northeastern University School of Law. “Another man, 29 years old, just trying to make his way home when he was stopped and brutally beaten by officers who took an oath to serve and protect.”

“The issue of police violence and brutality has been a serious problem in this country for far too long,” Jackson added.

two people speaking at tyre nichols event
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“We need to keep the momentum,” Niles said. “I’m going to dedicate my law career to make sure that Black lives matter; that Black lives continue to matter.”

Régine Jean-Charles, dean’s professor of culture and social justice and professor of Africana studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern, explored the meaning behind the phrase “Black lives matter”—a phrase that’s become a rallying cry for the movement to end police brutality.

“This statement, Black Lives Matter, represents one of the most important utterances about the proliferation of racial injustice in the 21st century,” she said. “It is a simple affirmation whose necessity reveals the kind of world that we live in. To understand that all black lives matter is to appreciate intersectionality and comprehend the depths of the struggle against anti-Black racism in the United States and beyond.” 

Northeastern Law professor Deborah Ramirez, who chairs the criminal justice task force, shared her own research about new policing models that would serve to redirect policing away from routine traffic enforcement, which she says can be taken up by other community stakeholders. 

Speaking about Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, she urged participants to stay engaged.

“Surely her trauma is the worst trauma I can imagine, and yet she is praying for those officers. She has not stopped believing; she has not stopped hoping for change,” Ramirez said. “With dignity and compassion, she is urging us to continue the fight for justice.”

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at t.stening@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.