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Tennessee lawmakers ask for federal civil rights investigation into Memphis Police Department's culture

Lawmakers sent a letter to Kristen Clarke, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice calling for an investigation.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee state lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation into the culture of the Memphis Police Department following the death of Tyre Nichols.

State Representatives G.A. Hardaway and Joe Towns joined other Shelby County and community leaders Friday afternoon for a news conference on their request.

The lawmakers sent a letter to Kristen Clarke, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In it, they said they are asking for what is called a “pattern or practice” investigation into MPD. They said the investigation would look into the policies and history at MPD, and whether the department has a history of discrimination.

“We believe ‘bad cops’ have been emboldened by the implicit or explicit approval of their superiors to act upon the systemic racism and classist biases within the MPD,” the letter reads.

The letter continued, saying the video of the brutal beating of Nichols by Memphis police officers shows a blatant disregard for human life and a failure of all the persons involved to correctly perform their responsibilities.

“Memphians desire and deserve and demand a full reckoning, that only an independent aggressive, thorough and complete ‘pattern or practice’ investigation initiated by the USDOJ can yield,” it said.

Read the letter HERE.

During the news conference, NAACP Memphis-branch President Van Turner said they were fighting for oversight and policy so this does not occur again. 

St. Rep. G.A. Hardaway said, "This problem has got to be resolved. There is no reason why we have crime rising behind the badge under the pretense that we crime is going down in front of the badge." 

Hardaway said this is an effort to change the way the Memphis Police Department has been operating, and to "get a grip on these exceptional officers who are doing this crime under the color of law."

"I can think of no greater betrayal than the person you look to help, the person that you look to to save you in a time of crisis, being the person that victimizes you. So we're looking to get those monsters off the street," said Hardaway.

St. Rep. Joe Towns Jr. said they need an impartial body to go in and look for the truth of what is going on at MPD. 

Josh Spickler from Just City also said they've launched a data accountability project focused on the affidavits police generate from traffic stops and cases like Nichols'. He said that will help find some of the patterns and practices they are asking the DOJ to investigate.

This all comes after five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty Friday morning to second-degree murder and other charges in the violent arrest and death of Nichols. Their next court date was set for May 1. The officers were fired after an internal police investigation into the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later. 

At a news conference after the hearing, Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, said that the officers didn’t have the courage to look her in the eye, but that “they’re going to see me at every court date — every one — until we get justice for my son."

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