Entire Nation Feeling Memphis Blues

When bodycam video was released yesterday, it showed five members of the Memphis police force beating, pepper spraying, and tasing Tyre Nichols over the course of several minutes. At no time did the officers appear to be in danger from Mr. Nichols.

Apparently, the officers were all members of a unit known as SCORPION, whose initials stand for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace. Spirited Reasoners find it strange that the SCORPION officers apparently received special training. See, https://edition.cnn.com/us/live-news/tyre-nichols-memphis-news-1-27-23/h_b9cb24062b4bd7ab6f168f4b478bff6a

An immediate question is raised:  How is it that a police unit, whose officers apparently received special training to conduct operations aimed at restoring peace, could behave in a manner likely to foment public disorder, not just in Memphis but across the entire nation?

Several answers to that question present themselves, among which are the following:

  1. Perhaps the training was seriously flawed or inadequate. If, for example, the training focused on SWAT-style combat rather than methods for deescalating violent behavior, then cities across the United States might wish to review their own SCORPION training methods.
  2. Perhaps the wrong officers were assigned to the SCORPION unit.
  3. Perhaps the whole notion of a special “SCORPION” unit needs to be reexamined. The name, after all, implies that the officers are likely to sting members of the public rather than bring peace to neighborhoods.
  4. Perhaps the officers engaged in a form of groupthink, wherein four of the officers had been instructed to follow the lead of the superior officer who led the beating. Perhaps they initially assumed he knew something about Mr. Nichols that they didn’t. (None of this would exonerate any of them, but we’re searching for plausible explanations for behavior that frankly seems implausible.)
  5. Perhaps—as seems to be the case in so many random traffic stops—Mr. Nichols did not display the form of courtesy and deference some officers seem to require psychologically. (I recall a time, back in the 1960s, when I received my first ever traffic ticket. I had not recognized of those old yellow and black stop signs. The officer glared at me and asked the following question: “If I give you a ticket will you promise to drive more carefully?” I wondered after the fact what the officer would have done to me if my answer had been anything other than “Yessir.”)

In addition to firing the five officers and charging them with murder and kidnapping, the Memphis Police Department has decided to inactivate the SCORPION unit temporarily, pending a review. Spirited Reasoners suspect that the review, if honestly conducted, will conclude that Memphis needs fewer scorpions and better, more professional training.