Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
We join the family, friends and Memphis community in mourning the loss of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died on Jan. 10, three days after being brutally beaten by five police officers.
And along with Nichols' family, friends and community, we have questions that necessitate answers not just about his death, but about a broader police culture that led to it and other horrific incidents, including the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Addressing these questions is imperative to procure justice for Nichols as well as to identify the root causes of the rot in far too many police departments.
In Memphis, all five officers face second-degree murder charges, but several more individuals sworn to serve the community must be investigated, including the callous emergency responders who gave scant attention to a dying man, ignoring him for nearly seven minutes at one point. Two of the EMTs have been suspended pending an ongoing investigation.
As have two Shelby County sheriff's deputies. And on Monday, another Memphis police officer was placed on administrative leave, reflecting a more aggressive approach by local officials than in some communities where such responses only came after justifiably outraged citizens took to the courts and the streets.
The relatively fast action, however, shouldn't shield everyone involved in Memphis-area law enforcement — from the police chief to elected officials to other law enforcement officers from every applicable jurisdiction — from scrutiny.
Nichols' death should also prompt federal review from the Biden administration and Congress alike — as well as by the Minnesota Legislature — on a bipartisan basis. There's something fundamentally wrong about policing in many areas of America.
Nichols died even though Memphis — like many cities — has worked to diversify its police force and require the use of body cameras designed to provide an honest accounting of confrontations and protect defendants and police alike.
These and other reforms must not be abandoned. Indeed, they should be made more powerful than a police culture that resulted in not a single officer, EMT or other professional intervening in Nichols' beating or alerting superiors immediately afterward. The officers were aware cameras were on, suggesting an expectation of impunity and, as many unfortunate recipients of police abuse would attest to, business-as-usual brutality.
Because Floyd was Black and his murderer white, a painful but necessary national racial reckoning has transpired. It must continue, not only regarding law enforcement, but all sectors of society still contending with inequities and racism.
The fact that the five indicted officers and Nichols were Black does not negate race as a potential factor. But the most profound color to address isn't Black or white, but blue.
In Memphis, in Minnesota and across the nation, police practices from recruitment to training to accountability to reward structures and beyond must be examined and, if necessary, reformed.
But not defunded.
In fact, more funding is likely needed across the country to increase police forces, and it should always be remembered that the vast majority of officers perform their work professionally, even heroically, amid a sharp spike in crime and sharp decrease in available officers.
But getting more quality officers on the streets likely won't happen until changes are made. After all, prospective police officers — at least those worthy of the privilege of wearing the uniform — are not likely to choose to serve if they believe they're expected to take part in, or turn a blind eye toward, police brutality.
The kind of rioting that happened in Minneapolis after Floyd's murder didn't occur on the streets of Memphis. Credit city leaders and especially Nichols' family members who implored that the protests be peaceful. And credit Memphis residents, whose reasonable response has kept the focus right where it belongs: on a city, state, nation and world mourning a lost life and a police culture that's lost its way.