After Tyre Nichols' death, Memphis is looking for new chapter in policing. Start with nonviolence. | Opinion

Demonstrators march through the streets on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. as they protest the killing of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers.
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The police violence on Tyre Nichols was abhorrent, and on the surface it does not make sense. Deep down it invokes shame, grief, and fear. But there are solutions to move forward.

I am certain on January 7th morning when the officers put on their uniforms, they did not intend to kill someone.

At play may be retaliation for defying police, or a disregard for a black life (even by black people), or a groupthink like gang-mentality among the police. Perhaps they were pumped-up special police units where most encounters may be with a potential criminal and not an ordinary citizen?

The violence has brought shame to the individuals, to Memphis, to the nation and to humanity. Shame in that, even today in civil society humans behave in such a manner. Institutions which are created to “protect and serve” perpetuate the very opposite and “harm and kill” the citizens.

More than shame, the violence has brought deep collective grief, much like what many felt after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King over half a century ago. We also feel grief for Nichols, his family as well as for the officers, and their families. As a community we must seek justice not revenge.

The violence invokes fear. I fear for me and my 23-year-old brown-skinned son. The next time we get pulled over by a blue-uniformed officer, I will guard every word I speak and every hand movement I make, so that it is not misconstrued in a split-second decision by an officer as being threatening. A gun loaded with bullets is only inches and seconds away.

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This violence raises many questions

Was this an isolated aberrant act of violence in the midst of millions of police encounters —by a “few bad apples?” Or is it a systemic problem by chance caught by a pole camera? And how pervasive is this culture of violence? How does a city and the police department evaluate officers and reassure the public?

No doubt a change much like the Civil Rights reform of the 1960’s is in need. Some changes came after the George Floyd murder, but more are needed. Change is needed at three levels: individual, institutional, and societal.

The solution is clear but difficult. Our culture at each level must be transformed from a culture of violence to a culture of nonviolence much like what Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. preached and practiced.

As individuals we need to see and feel sympathy, empathy and compassion for other human beings. This must come in actions, speech and thoughts.

Institutions need to put programs promoting nonviolence. While the Memphis Police Department had many programs for de-escalation, dealing with mentally ill persons and racially charged situations, they failed. Hence we need a course correction. We need to rethink and reevaluate.

Society needs to again seek nonviolence as a solution to our ills, not more violence. Yes, protection and proper policing is critical, but nonviolence teaching and practice to our children and troubled young adults has to be present. In addition, the root cause of violence such as poverty, inequity, racism, and lack of education need to be addressed.

We have so much soul searching yet to do. From understanding the context of the violence of the January 7th night, to overcoming the shame of violence to the fear of violence in day to day life in America.

Our path forward in our human journey together is a change in our culture at an individual, institutional, and societal level towards nonviolence. As Rev. King said, “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself.“

Dr. Manoj Jain is founder of the Gandhi-King Nonviolence Conference in Memphis.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tyre Nichols killing: Nonviolence is the best solution to fix policing