Mayor Adams offered more detail Monday morning into his thoughts on the police-involved killing of Tyre Nichols and defended his decision last year to reinstate an NYPD anti-gun unit similar to the one involved in Nichols’ death.
The five officers who brutally beat Nichols were members of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit, which was disbanded permanently after Nichols’ family demanded it be done away with.
Adams, a former NYPD captain, said Monday during an appearance on CNN that none of the Memphis police officers captured on camera beating Nichols had a “level head,” but that specific police units aren’t necessarily to blame for such abuse.
“Units don’t create abuse. Abusive behavior creates abuse. You can be assigned to uniformed patrol. If you don’t have the right mindset for public protection — and I think the nobility of being a law enforcement officer — then you should not be assigned in the police department,” he said.
“Just because you are a police officer does not mean that you are capable of doing every aspect of policing. If you’re a doctor, it does not mean you can be a brain surgeon. No, a brain surgeon is a brain surgeon,” he continued. “So the forms of policing that causes you to go in and deal with a high volume of arrests, go after those who carry guns and other dangerous actions — that’s a special trained police officer.”
That, Adams suggested, is part of what led to Nichols’ death in Memphis.
“A number of things went wrong. It was clear that no one was there with a level head and really controlled the situation and the scene,” he said. “We know policing is a very high anxiety form of public protection, but those officers lost control, and they showed the level of abuse that is really a betrayal to those who wear the uniform every day.”
The brutal beating that led up to Nichols’ death in Memphis, which was captured on both police body camera footage and surveillance video, sparked protests across the U.S. over the weekend after the tapes were made public. The officers involved in the attack — Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley and Desmond Mills — were all fired from the Memphis Police Department and have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
On Monday, Adams fielded questions on the Memphis Police Department’s decision to disband the SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. All five cops involved in the beating were part of the unit.
After Adams became mayor he reconstituted the NYPD’s controversial Anti-Crime Unit, a plainclothes unit which had been disbanded under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, as a new team of uniformed officers with the same goal of getting guns off the street.
When asked if the Memphis PD made the right decision in disbanding the SCORPION unit, Adams declined to “second guess” them, but also defended his decision to recreate a new version of the Anti-Crime Unit.
“What I put back in place, our anti-gun unit, many people stated that we should not do it, but we were able to remove 7,000 guns off our streets. That’s a 27-year high,” he said. “We must have proper training, proper mindset and the police officers across our country must have the right mindset to do this very difficult and challenging job of public protection.”
Adams went on to say that he’s familiar with the emotions the Nichols’ family is now experiencing, given that he was also beaten by the police when he was a teen, but he added that those emotions shouldn’t necessarily outweigh protecting the public from crime.
“I remember the first time I shared with my mom that I was assaulted by police officers — how devastating it was for her,” he said. “I understand when those who are the victims of the abusive police behavior respond in a certain way, but we have an obligation of using all the tools properly to keep citizens safe.”
Adams also responded to questions about whether there’s a racial element to the attack on Nichols in light of the fact that both Nichols and the police who beat him are all Black.
Asked whether an “entrenched police culture of aggression toward Black people” exists, Adams did not offer a yes or no response, and in recent days has spoken more broadly about “police abuse.”
But on Monday, Adams called the officers’ ethnicity “the pink elephant in the room” and said that while race isn’t something that could be ignored in this case, it’s still important to make police departments more diverse, especially in New York City, given that it’s one of the most diverse cities in the country.
“We’re going to stay focused. We’re going to keep moving forward. Diversity still is the key,” he said. “We saw that here in New York City, and we’re going to stay on that road.”
Still, Adams noted that “race is still on the table” when it comes to Nichols’ death at the hands of Memphis cops.
“When a culture of policing historically has treated those from different groups differently — even when the individuals are from that same group — that culture can still exist, and we have to zero in on it, being honest about it and making sure that we properly train police for the realities of the cities that they are policing in,” Adams said.
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