Universities Respond to Killing of Tyre Nichols

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In the wake of the Memphis police killing of Tyre Nichols, leaders at more than 20 colleges and universities have released statements condemning the incident and offering support to students and faculty.

On Jan. 7, Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was pulled over for what police claimed was reckless driving. After attempting to flee the scene on foot, five officers beat Nichols with a baton while kicking and punching him. He was hospitalized and died three days later.

Body cam footage of the officers assaulting Nichols was publicly released on Friday, leading to nationwide protests.

Officials at Howard University, New York University, the University of California System, and more have responded to the violent footage with statements expressing both grief and anger.

“Our grief is minimal compared to that felt by Tyre Nichols’ family and friends, the Memphis community and others who have lost loved ones as a result of police brutality, but these tragic events can and do impact our well-being and mental health — as individuals and as a society,” said Pennsylvania State University leaders in an open letter.

At some universities, campus police department chiefs have spoken out to denounce the officers involved.

“I watched a wanton disregard of Tyre Nichols’ fundamental civil rights. I watched a shameful display of cowardice by people who swore to prioritize life and uphold the law. I watched these people tarnish their badge, break their oath to the community they serve, and void parts of the social contract between the police and the community,” said Keith Jemison, associate vice president for public safety and chief of police at Prairie View A&M University, in a public statement.

College faculty and students have also banded together to hold events to memorialize Nichols’ life and address police brutality.

American University in Washington, D.C., hosted a virtual teach-in on Monday to discuss Nichols’ killing and police violence against African Americans. Organized by the university’s law school dean, Roger A. Fairfax, Jr., the event featured a panel of legal and public policy scholars.

Meanwhile, the Black Student Association at Harvard University held a vigil on Sunday to mourn Nichols’ death. More than a dozen students attended, and at least one student called on Harvard leadership to publicly acknowledge the incident.

Around 50 University of Pittsburgh students gathered for a protest Friday. In addition to marching and giving speeches, the protestors took a knee for three minutes to represent the length of time the police beat Nichols.

Each of the five officers involved in Nichols’ death, all of whom are Black, faces several charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. As of Feb. 1, two additional officers identified in the body cam footage have been relieved from their duties.