Republicans Move to Block a Policing Change Made After Tyre Nichols’s Death

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Tennessee Republicans moved on Thursday to overrule a change to the policing of Memphis traffic laws that was a direct response to the death of Tyre Nichols, who was fatally beaten by officers last year during a traffic stop.

A new Memphis law, supported by Mr. Nichols’s family and seen by many as a crucial reform in the weeks after his death, had prevented the police from intervening over more minor traffic offenses, such as a broken taillight.

On Thursday, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill prohibiting any local law that prevents the police from making traffic stops “based on observation of or reasonable suspicion” that someone in a car had violated the law. The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican.


The legislation does not directly name Memphis or the law, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council after Mr. Nichols’s death last January. But the Memphis Republicans who led the push to override the ordinance explicitly criticized it as an impediment to controlling crime.

It remains unclear why Mr. Nichols was stopped. Police officers brutally beat and kicked him despite his efforts to comply with their demands. The violence, captured on camera, horrified the nation and led to further scrutiny of the Memphis Police Department and its heavy handed tactics.

Rodney Wells spoke at a prayer gathering, in January 2023, to honor the life of his stepson, Tyre Nichols.Credit…Desiree Rios/The New York Times

What It Means: Fears of increased crime override calls for police reform.

Republicans had rallied around the measure as a means of reducing crime in the state, listing instances where a minor traffic infraction had led officers to uncovering drug trafficking and violent crimes.

“It’s time to take handcuffs off police and put them on criminals where they belong,” said State Senator Brent Taylor, a Memphis Republican.

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