People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols Thursday in...

People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols Thursday in Memphis, Tennessee, and inset, Nichols in an undated photo. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson, AP

America’s latest homicide by police abuse has sparked a new round of national disgust, protest, and reflection powered by streams of viral video. 

The unarmed victim was 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who ended up struck with fists, kicks, and a baton while handcuffed for several minutes by a team of Memphis, Tennessee police officers — in a unit fiercely named Scorpion.

Call the Jan. 7 incident mob violence in uniform or an adrenaline-fueled atrocity. The description doesn’t matter morally or practically any more than the fact that the officers, like the victim, were Black. The nastiest corners of police culture cry out for reform.

Clearly aware of how such killings as those of Laquan McDonald in Chicago and George Floyd in Minneapolis played out, authorities in Tennessee responded this time with unaccustomed speed. Within three weeks, five Scorpion officers were dismissed and booked for second-degree murder, kidnapping, official misconduct, and other charges. A sixth officer was relieved of his duties Monday. 

The Scorpion team was promptly and rightly disbanded. Nichols had been stopped for alleged reckless driving — a target of the unit’s crackdown. He was pulled from his vehicle. He managed to break away despite the police using a Taser and pepper spray. He was chased down and mercilessly beaten. It took 26 minutes for a stretcher to appear where he was slumped on the ground. He died in a hospital three days later.

The incident shows how a police unit can turn into a steroidal wolf pack. This is why, for example, the NYPD’s revival of anti-crime units last year was greeted by critics with stern caution. Only well-supervised, tightly trained officers can be trusted with such assignments.

But there is a more salient policing point to be made from the Memphis travesty. Police body cameras helped break the traditional blue wall of silence and corrected earlier flaws in official accounts. The traffic stop and fatal blows to Tyre Nichols, recorded on the bodycams of three officers and another mounted on a pole, were released Friday.

Here on Long Island, county police departments have been slow to get their bodycam programs up and running. Nassau and Suffolk must be as speedily forthcoming as Memphis with their footage.

Federal lawmakers should have another look at the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which failed to clear the Senate in 2021. Among its provisions were requirements that officers complete training on profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force. Passage of a new version would show a renewed determination by the nation to end these abuses.

There is no way to excuse or minimize the death of Tyre Nichols. Instead, let it be the spur that finally brings about the broader changes that might stop these horrific fatalities.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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