“We need public safety, right? We need law enforcement to combat pervasive crime. Also, we don’t want the people who are sworn to protect and serve us brutalizing us for a simple traffic stop, or any offense.”

So said Jason Turner, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis where, last week, officers in a special police unit executed a traffic stop and beat the driver so badly that he later died of his injuries. The killing of Tyre Nichols was captured vividly on the body cameras the cops were wearing and led the Memphis police chief to fire the five officers and the Memphis district attorney to charge them with murder.

This latest incident of a Black man dying at the hands of overly aggressive police has generated new calls for policing reforms, but the particulars of the case bring into question the kind of reforms that are most often proposed.

Diversifying the racial makeup of police departments is offered as one fix, but not only is the Memphis chief a Black woman, all the cops who pummeled Nichols are Black. Body cameras are assumed to restrain cops from doing dirty deeds they would not want others to see, but those cameras did not inhibit those Memphis policemen. De-escalation training is another cure, supposedly. The Memphis cops had that training. Requiring other officers to intervene if they see one of their compatriots using excessive force is another good idea. In Tennessee, it is written into law, but other Memphis cops on the scene of the beating just stood by.

Cop culture seems to override all else. Policing is a dangerous, often thankless job, so the traditional message passed on to every new police officer from veterans is “do whatever it takes to stay alive and we will all protect each other if any of us takes things a little too far.” It is not surprising that the bond between cops is stronger than any reform imposed from the outside. These men and women patrolling the most crime-ridden streets of America’s cities feel like they are operating in a war zone and they act accordingly. In far too many cases, though, they mistakenly perceive innocent citizens as potential enemies. Brutality can be the result.

Which brings us back to Pastor Turner’s comment about how his community needs cops but does not need unjustified police violence. He expresses the Catch-22 that non-white neighborhoods all over America face. Entrenched poverty, inadequate schools and many other manifestations of systemic racism have undermined those communities for many long decades. They are perpetual havens for criminal activity that, more often than not, victimizes the residents of those communities.


Most folks who live in these troubled neighborhoods do want police protection. In too many instances, though, they end up needing protection from cops who abuse the police power with which they have been entrusted.

See more of David Horsey’s cartoons at: st.news/davidhorsey

View other syndicated cartoonists at: st.news/cartoons

Editor’s note: Seattle Times Opinion no longer appends comment threads on David Horsey’s cartoons. Too many comments violated our community policies and reviewing the dozens that were flagged as inappropriate required too much of our limited staff time. You can comment via a Letter to the Editor. Please email us at letters@seattletimes.com and include your full name, address and telephone number for verification only. Letters are limited to 200 words.