Pittsburgh reacts to police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor-In-Chief

In response to Memphis police killing 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, an unarmed civilian, at a traffic stop, protests were held across the country, including in the city of Pittsburgh. Protests in Pittsburgh remained peaceful.


The largest protest in Pittsburgh was held on Saturday and was organized by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL).


“We just need to know that justice will be served,” a Pittsburgh-based protest organizer and PSL spokesperson said. “Police are killing people at the highest rate yet in 2023, and police departments have higher budgets than ever before. We need to put an end to the killing of Black people at the hands of the US police force.”


The killing occurred earlier in the month, but protests were sparked following the release of police body cam footage, which shows five officers beating Nichols to death. The five officers were fired, and additional officers are under investigation.


“Five Memphis Police officers were terminated last week. These officers were found to be directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols,” C.J. Davis, chief of the Memphis Police Department, said. “Concurrent within that investigation, other Memphis Police Department Officers are under investigation for department policy violations. Some infractions are less egregious than others.”


The five officers arrested are Black. A sixth officer, who is white, was relieved of duty but has not been indicted. That officer was present for the initial traffic stop, but not for the killing.


Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey released a statement on the killings.


“Tyre Nichols was a father, he was an artist, a skater, a young man who was loved and had his whole life ahead of him,” Gainey said. “My heart and my prayers go out to his family, friends, and the entire city of Memphis. Tyre should be alive today and his murder at the hands of law enforcement makes it clear that our work to change the culture of policing is critical for our city and our country.”


In the statement, Gainey requested that protests in response remain peaceful.


“We respect and understand the need for protest and hope that the wishes of the family for them to be peaceful are respected as we honour the life of Tyre,” Gainey said.


Pittsburgh Public Safety released a similar statement.


“Police are prepared for all contingencies, making it a priority to respect demonstrators’ First Amendment rights while also ensuring public safety,” the city’s Public Safety department said in a statement.


Pittsburgh acting police chief Thomas Stangrecki and Public Safety Director Lee Schmight referred to the killing in a joint statement as “a violent, inexcusable failure by the officers involved.”


Large-scale protests occurred across the country and in the Pittsburgh area in the summer of 2020. Then, it was in response to the police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. The spokesperson for PSL believes that these protests impacted the response to the killing of Nichols.


“If the George Floyd protests hadn’t happened, I don’t think that these officers who committed this horrific killing would have been arrested at all and would be charged,” the spokesperson said. “What we need to do is continue to protest to ensure that this is not swept under the rug. We’ve seen before that police officers are arrested and then the situation is swept under the rug. They may be dismissed from the police but they don’t face any repercussions beyond that.”


The spokesperson criticized both the Republican and Democratic party’s stances on policing and believes that they have ignored people’s protests against policing.


“We’ve seen both major political parties in this country essentially ignore it, and if anything pushes for more police funding and more policing in general,” the spokesperson said. “Recently, there was a push in the Pittsburgh City Council to enforce a curfew law that has been on the books for decades, which would essentially criminalize children for existing, and we know in this country that things like that will always disproportionately affect Black and brown communities. Thankfully, that was shot down.”


The spokesperson urged white people to educate themselves on issues facing Black communities and to not turn away from issues because they are uncomfortable addressing them.


“I think that this is something that white people, not just white people in power, but white people in general, kind of try to avoid looking at because it’s too uncomfortable,” the spokesperson said. “I think that it’s the job of everyone, especially white people in this country, to stand in solidarity with Black and brown folks who are victims of this continuing policing violence.”


Kayla Brown, president of the Black Student Union on campus, agrees.


“When people get uncomfortable, they just don’t want to have anything to do with it, even though it’s something that a group of people go through every day,” Brown said. “I think it’s sad, but it’s just the truth that bad things happen. You don’t have to get fully involved, but being aware helps.”


In response to a question on what Point Park students can do, the spokesperson urged students to connect with the greater Pittsburgh community beyond the university.


“I think it’s important that students become engaged not just with other people on their campus but with the rest of the community,” the spokesperson said. “I think we all have to stand in solidarity together and with all of the communities around us.”


Brown encouraged students to support the Black student union and diversity initiatives on campus.


“I think there are a lot of improvements that need to happen, but there are people who promise but don’t execute,” Brown said. “It’s a long process to sit and think about these things and then how to execute them. People can work with the Black Student Union or ISLA, or groups like that that are trying to make change. It’s just moving really slow, if at all.”


According to Brown, the best way for non-Black students to support the Black Student Union is to attend educational events that they hold.


“They are welcome to come to our events, they can sit if we have educational things on Black History Month, which is coming up,” Brown said. “For those students that aren’t people of colour, just to be educated and to be an ally, any support is welcomed.”