Bearing Witness To Police Brutality | Crooked Media
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January 29, 2023
What A Day
Bearing Witness To Police Brutality

In This Episode

  • Memphis authorities released video footage of the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols, who was pulled over during a traffic stop on Jan. 7 and died three days later. The release of the videos triggered nationwide protests over the weekend, and led to Memphis police disbanding the so-called SCORPION crime unit, whose officers are accused of murdering Nichols.
  • And in headlines: Utah became the first state this year to pass a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel amid a surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin spoke out publicly for the first time since his on-field collapse.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, January 30th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day. On today’s show, violence continues in Israel and the occupied West Bank. Plus, Tamar Hamlin spoke publicly for the first time since he collapsed during a monday night football game. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, an update on the story out of Memphis, where five officers have been charged with second degree murder, assault, and kidnapping in the death of Tyre Nichols. Picking up where we left the story on Friday, the Memphis Police Department has released video footage of the traffic stop beating and other events that led to Tyre’s death. They did that Friday night and throughout the weekend there have been protests nationwide. In Memphis, of course, but also in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Detroit, among others. Now, we won’t be detailing the events of the video footage, both the videos themselves and various descriptions of the violence Tyre endured is out there, if that’s what you’re looking for. And we’re going to chat in a couple of minutes about the choice to, you know, watch or not watch the video. But before we do that, I want to emphasize that most of the demonstrations that happened over the weekend were peaceful ones, even though to me, many of the calls for peace in advance of the video footage’s release were absurd and not a logical request, considering the severity, you know, of the violence that they all mentioned. This came from the Memphis police chief as well as President Biden. You know, they kind of made it seem like we couldn’t imagine, you know, the severity of what was caught on tape when obviously we’ve seen so many tapes of police doing the opposite of protecting and serving and instead brutalizing people. And so, you know, many cities were bracing for these massive disruptions and massive demonstrations that um, you know, just didn’t happen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. It feels like there was a lot of apprehension. But then things went peacefully this weekend. These situations always lead to a lot of discourse about police reform and how they’re going to change this one thing and everything will be different. Is that happening here? Like, what are elected officials saying? Tell us what the plan is for going forward. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So on the national level, the Congressional Black Caucus released a statement saying they want to meet with President Biden this week to address, quote, “the public health epidemic of police violence”. They’re hoping that the tapes will, you know, make this a nonpartisan issue as they discuss it in the various chambers. And then on the state level, a pair of Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee have said they will file police reform legislation ahead of the state’s General assembly’s filing deadline on Tuesday. The bills will seek to address mental health care for law enforcement officers, hiring, training, discipline practices and other topics. That’s according to Representatives G.A. Hardaway and Joe Towns Jr, who both represent portions of Memphis. And then on the local level, one of the big headlines of the weekend was the disbanding of the SCORPION unit, which Josie you’re going to tell us about? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, I am going to talk about the SCORPION unit. I do want to just say that I do find it interesting that when something like this happens, the answer is always invest more into policing. I think getting mental health care for law enforcement, love mental health care. Love to see it. But it does feel like a strange response, right, that the answer to something like this is more money into policing, more resources into policing when we see what policing has wrought. But yes, let’s talk about the SCORPION unit. All five police officers accused of murdering Tyre Nichols were part of the SCORPION unit, which stands for street crimes operation to restore peace in our neighborhoods. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Really feels like they’re stretching with that acronym, but, you know. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.


Josie Duffy Rice: The unit was started just over a year ago to address, you guessed it, quote, unquote, “street crime”. It was a strategy of Chief of Police C.J. Davis, who came into the department in 2021 and pledged to be tougher on crime. On Saturday, though, Chief Davis announced the unit would be disbanded due to the killing of Tyre Nichols. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, it’s always interesting to me when we talk about these special units, because they always have some sort of name that is supposed to invoke fear. Right. Such as Scorpion. But then it’s an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in our neighborhoods. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Right.


Tre’vell Anderson: I never think of a scorpion when I think of something peaceful. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Right right.


Tre’vell Anderson: But you know, what do I know? Josie. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Can you tell us exactly what the Scorpion unit did? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I just think that’s a really good point. And it really kind of embodies like the problem with policing in America. It’s like it wants to be both the military while it’s telling you that it is like a peace circle and– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: –you can’t do both of those things right? It would really almost be funny if it weren’t for the situation that this SCORPION unit, the P stands for peace, right? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But about what the SCORPION unit did. According to The New York Times, it was, quote, “a 40 officer group that would deploy in neighborhoods with a focus on crime hotspots. The police in that unit oftened, quote, “operated in unmarked vehicles, making traffic stops, seizing weapons and conducting hundreds of arrests”. And according to CBS, they wore black hoodies and tactical black vests with police emblazoned across the front and back and drove dark colored Dodge chargers marked with a scorpion seal. So we’ll get to those in a second. But worth noting that when she started the unit, Chief Davis really endorsed this kind of like tough on crime approach. Right. Saying we all have that understanding about being tough on tough people. And when I read this thing about the Scorpion unit, I was kind of confused, honestly, because it’s been discussed as this really specialized policing unit, kind of groundbreaking. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case, right? This unit seems to be recycling failed policing tactics that we’ve seen for decades, truly in countless cities and countless places. The description of the hotspots using traffic stops as a kind of pretext search tool, increasing arrests like that’s basically just broken windows policing, it’s not a new idea. And of course, they say like, oh, this is different. It’s data driven, this is X policing or Y style or acronym, you know, Z. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But like this is the thing. Police departments often put new names on the same old thing, and they like to pretend that they’ve never tried the tough on crime approach, but it’s literally all they’ve tried. So it’s hard to take the idea of this unit as like good in theory or well-intentioned, because it doesn’t feel like that. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And so it then make so many of these initiatives feel more like a PR move. Right. And– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –a way of basically giving officers carte blanche to be aggressive and wreak havoc– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –on the local communities. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. I think that’s totally, totally right. Like the chief and the mayor talked about Scorpion a lot, like in the state of the city address to the media just a few days before Tyre Nichols was killed. There was a report in local media about how the Scorpion unit had recovered 170 grams of marijuana. And so it really does feel like it was kind of a PR move. Like you said, it doesn’t feel like these were the best and the brightest or the most experienced or that they had some sort of particularly specialized training. It seems like they were aggressive. They weren’t afraid to make a questionable stop. They weren’t afraid to push the boundaries of policing. And we know exactly where that got us right. In fact, Hunter Dempster, an organizer with Decarcerate Memphis, told The New York Times that he had long been sounding the alarm on the SCORPION unit in particular, and that many people in his community were especially worried about those officers. Right. If you get pulled over, you know that there’s potential for violence, he said. That’s how terrified the general public is of these units. And so that’s a reminder that in some ways this result, while absolutely heinous, is like not actually surprising. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Which fits your earlier point, it just doesn’t surprise us. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So Tre’vell, there’s been a lot happening around this incident. And that’s in addition to the fact that obviously a person is dead and was murdered at the hands of cops. So talk to us about you know how you’re feeling, how the past few days have been. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, you know, I think there’s been a lot of conversation right about do you watch the video? Do you not watch the videos? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s a collection of videos that they released, right, of like different angles and different segments of the events that eventually led to Tyre’s death. I watched one of them. I watched a couple seconds I like scanned through a video just to like, you know, get the highlights because as we mentioned, we’ve seen videos like this before. I don’t really personally need to see the actual violence to know what policing brings us. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Um. I feel like–


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –my entire adult life I’ve been seeing videos or hearing recordings of police or people who act like police brutalizing folks. And so it’s been interesting to see that discourse. I know you didn’t watch. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I would love to hear why from your vantage point. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I didn’t watch it. I don’t think I’ve watched one of these videos since the Walter Scott video, which was 2015. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s just kind of my rule at this point. I think that for a long time, nobody saw this stuff. They just heard it and they thought people were lying or they were exaggerating. And so the fact that these videos exist in many ways is important. And also, like, if you know that this is a thing, if you know that this is the story of American policing, which it is, by the way, from the beginning of American policing, this is the story of American policing. They haven’t taken a day off. Right. If you know that, then I don’t think you have to watch. Those videos are important for people who don’t know that and don’t believe that. Right? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I don’t think that either of us have to see how bad it is to know how bad it is. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And that’s a really tough line to walk. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. You know, and then I also think about we already mentioned some of the elected officials coming up with these ideas and these bills that basically will pump more money into policing. And we know that, right? More resources, more training, more money has not solved the issue of– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –policing. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Having greater diversity– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –on police forces has not solved the issue. Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: All of the officers involved in this case are Black folks. The police chief is a Black woman. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And yet we are still seeing this type of violence. And it’s not just Memphis. It’s in cities right across the country. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Where the resources have gone up for police departments. And the violence they enact on our communities has not– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –gone down. And so it’s been interesting to see, you know, a lot more conversation even just this week around abolition, what that could possibly look like and how to go about just thinking differently about what safety in our communities looks like. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Like, I think a lot of the solutions are controversial to people and that we often get caught up in like could abolition work, could defund work. And that’s a fair conversation, these are fairly new ideas, kind of widespread ideas. They’ve existed for a long time, but they’re kind of new to the public. And so I understand why they feel overwhelming. I think what we’ve seen in the past few years, right, is that people understand that this is not going to be solved with a policy change. It’s not going to be solved by shutting down the SCORPION unit. It’s not going to be solved with body cameras. It’s not going to be solved with ending no knock warrants. Like those are all kind of not unimportant, but separate from the actual issue is that the culture of policing in this country is brutal, policing in this country is brutal. And for every single Tyre Nichols, they’re ones we don’t hear about. There are people that die in darkness. And so it’s just a reminder that what we’re talking about here is something much deeper than disband the unit, something much deeper than the police chief or Memphis or these five people. It is it is a much bigger question of like, what does this job do to people? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Is that the structure we want being in charge of our quote unquote “public safety”? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. We will, of course, be following this story as it continues to develop. In the meantime, we’re going to take a short break for some ads. [music break]. 




Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Utah became the first state this year to pass a ban on gender affirming health care for trans youth. After Republican Governor Spencer Cox signed SB16 into law over the weekend. Under the rule, anyone under 18 diagnosed with gender dysphoria after the legislation’s effective date in May will not be allowed to access hormone therapy or puberty blockers. And all trans youth will be banned from getting gender affirming surgery. At least 18 other states are considering similar bills that target health care for trans kids. As a reminder, gender affirming health care has been endorsed by the nation’s leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. So it’d be great for, you know, elected officials to stop acting like they’re smarter than people who’ve literally studied this thing. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s disgusting. I mean, these are anti-science people. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s so disingenuous. It’s so cruel, it’s so bigoted. Utah, I wasn’t really into you anyway, but [laughter] it’s definitely over between us now. Sorry to anybody from Utah. On Friday, a judge ordered the release of audio and video recordings from the night Paul Pelosi, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, was violently attacked in their San Francisco home. Footage from a police body camera shows Paul Pelosi, who was home alone trying to wrestle a hammer away from David DePape just moments before DePape is seen lunging toward him. DePape who faces numerous state and federal charges, later called a local TV station from his jail cell. He reportedly told the station he, quote, “should have come better prepared on the day of the attack and suggested that he had other people he wanted to target”. 


Tre’vell Anderson: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel today following an eruption of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s part of a three day visit to the Middle East that was planned before the current tensions began. Late last week we told you that Israeli forces carried out a deadly raid in the occupied West Bank. On Friday, a Palestinian gunmen killed seven people outside a synagogue in Jerusalem. Both attacks were some of the worst outbreaks of violence those areas have seen in years. Blinken plans to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin has spoken out publicly for the first time since he collapsed on the field earlier this month. Hamlin was hospitalized on January 2nd after a hard tackle put him into cardiac arrest during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s been in recovery ever since and has mostly laid low since he was discharged from a Buffalo hospital nearly three weeks ago. In a video posted to his Instagram account on Saturday, Hamlin said he wanted to wait until his teammates finished their season before speaking on camera. He went on to thank the doctors and on field staff who saved his life, as well as his friends, family, and fans for their support. The 24 year old did not appear to show any difficulty speaking during the video, and as doctors have previously said, that he did not appear to suffer from any neurological impairment since the incident. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Our next story might make you stick out your tongue and say ahh! Federal agents uncovered a massive scheme at three South Florida nursing schools last week that revealed thousands of practicing nurses may have fake degrees. In what was dubbed Operation Nightingale, the Justice Department found that between 2016 and 2021, a well organized crime ring sold more than 7600 fake nursing diplomas to the value of over $100 million dollars. The bogus diplomas didn’t get aspiring nurses out of taking the National Nursing Board exam, but it did let them bypass the requirements to take the test. The Justice Department has charged more than two dozen people for their roles in the massive scheme, and each of those defendants could face up to 20 years in prison. But there will not truly be justice in health care until they stop judging adults who want to take the free lollipop, too. Because sometimes I have a sweet tooth that I need to, you know, solve as well. 


Josie Duffy Rice: We all have our secrets. Some people are not real nurses. [laughter] I like lollipops. Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde. Good Morning america’s Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes. All couples throughout history that made us say love is real. And also, maybe they shouldn’t have done it like that, but who am I to judge? The camera crossed lovers formally made their exit as co-host of ABC’s GMA three, the afternoon edition of Good Morning America following an internal investigation that began after reports of Holmes and Robach’s extramarital relationship surfaced in early December. The network announced the co-anchors departure in a statement Friday, implying the decision was agreed upon by all parties. Hours after ABC’s statement, the pair were seen together in Los Angeles, holding hands and embracing, like the old saying goes, when two conventionally attractive people we learned about from television get to kiss each other in public, we all win. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know what? I saw the photos. They seemed so, you know, happy to have this moment behind them. I look forward to the reality TV show. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I do, too. I can’t wait for it. [laughter] Someone get the rights immediately. Also, while Good Morning America is at it, maybe they should change the name of GMA three if it’s in the afternoon. Why would you call it Good Morning America three? [laughter] It’s the afternoon. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, procure a nursing degree from sheer will, and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just between the lines of co-anchors with incredible chemistry like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And adults deserve doctor candy, too. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Also, maybe I’m just jealous that Amy and T.J. are showing us up as co-hosts [laughter] with chemistry. You know? 


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ve got some work to do Josie. What what drama– 


Josie Duffy Rice: We do. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –are we going to get into? 


Josie Duffy Rice: We have some homes to wreck, apparently. [laughter] I didn’t know that was part of the job. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.