The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congress pressed to pass police reform after beating death of Tyre Nichols

A stalled bill from 2021 could face an uphill battle to get through a more polarized House

Ben Crump, the attorney for Tyre Nichols’s family, on Jan. 29 called on Congress to pass the stalled George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
4 min

A day after Memphis police moved to disband the unit responsible for fielding the five officers charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the attorney for Nichols’s family called on Congress to pass stalled legislation aimed at combating police misconduct.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed in the Democratic-controlled House in 2021 but failed in the Senate, would limit qualified-immunity policies that protect officers accused of misconduct; create a national registry of sustained disciplinary actions against officers; and ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants, among other measures.

“Shame on us if we don’t use [Nichols’s] tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed,” Ben Crump, the Nichols family’s attorney, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Videos released Friday evening show Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, being repeatedly shocked, pepper-sprayed, kicked and beaten by Memphis police. Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after the beating, prompting a Justice Department investigation and local charges of second-degree murder for the five officers, all of whom are Black.

It took 22 minutes for ambulance to arrive after Tyre Nichols was beaten by police

Crump said the family hoped Nichols’s death would be a watershed moment in forcing changes in regulations and laws. Paraphrasing a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he said: “I can’t stop a man from hating me, but the law can stop a man from killing a man.”

The 2021 measure was named for George Floyd, who died in 2020 after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9½ minutes, as seen on a video captured by a bystander. The legislation was sponsored by Democrats including Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) but faced opposition in the Senate from Republicans. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) offered a narrower version of the bill, but that didn’t pass either.

Book excerpt of 'His Name is George Floyd'

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that police overhaul efforts needed to go beyond the stalled bill, but that passing it would be a good start. He called on Booker and Scott to redouble their efforts to work through the legislation.

“It had many elements in it that are important,” Durbin said. “It’s necessary that we do all these things, but not sufficient. It’s the right starting point. We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional and humane way.”

But even if a new version gets through the Senate, it would have to be taken up again by the House, now controlled by Republicans.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he didn’t think a federal law would have made a difference in the death of Nichols.

“I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw,” Jordan said. He said that such regulations would be better left to state and local governments.

“The Democrats always think that it’s a new law that’s going to fix something that terrible,” Jordan said. “These five individuals did not have any respect for life.”

He also warned that the conversation around policing in the wake of high-profile police killings is having a chilling effect on police recruiting at a time when law enforcement agencies across the country face staffing shortages.

“There’s been this attack on law enforcement,” Jordan said. “And you’re not getting the best of the best.”

Crump, however, called for more accountability in the wake of Nichols’s death.

Communities of color “often have different types of policing than many of our White brothers and sisters have in their community,” Crump said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And this video illustrates that it’s this culture that says it doesn’t matter whether the police officers are Black, Hispanic or White, that it is somehow allowed for you to trample on the constitutional rights of certain citizens from certain ethnicities in certain communities.”

Azi Paybarah and Laurie McGinley contributed to this report.

The death of Tyre Nichols

The latest: The Justice Department is launching a review of the Memphis Police Department’s use of force policies and practices. Each of the five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty in Tyre Nichols’ death. One of the officers texted a photo of bloodied Tyre to colleagues, according to records.

What has Memphis police footage revealed?: The race of the five officers charged in the Nichols killing has sparked a complex dialogue on institutional racism in policing. Some of the most haunting videos came from SkyCop cameras.

Who was Tyre Nichols?: The 29-year-old father was pepper-sprayed, punched and kicked by Memphis cops after a January traffic stop. He was pronounced dead at a hospital three days after his arrest. At Tyre Nichols’ funeral service, his family said they are focused on getting justice.

What is the Scorpion unit?: After the fallout from the brutal beating, Memphis police shut down the Scorpion unit.