By Gina Christian | OSV News
(OSV News) — Catholics in Memphis, Tennessee, and throughout the nation are joining in prayer while calling for justice, as disturbing images of a police arrest turned fatal in that city were released late Jan. 27.
Five former Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, misconduct and oppression in the Jan. 7 apprehension and subsequent death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who worked for FedEx and was the father of a 4-year-old boy.
The city was bracing itself for protests as police body camera footage of the arrest was released on YouTube the evening of Jan. 27. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, speaking in a Jan. 26 video statement, described the footage as “heinous, reckless and inhumane” treatment of Nichols by the five former officers, all of whom also are Black.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the “use-of-force incident” with the former officers resulted in Nichols’ Jan. 10 death in a nearby hospital. Two city Fire Department employees who responded to Nichols’ medical distress also have been relieved of duty. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice are investigating the case.
“This was not just a professional failing,” Davis said in her statement. “This was a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. … I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights.”
Both Davis and Nichols’ family have called for peaceful demonstrations, as has President Joe Biden, who spoke by telephone with Nichols’ mother and stepfather earlier Friday.
The Diocese of Memphis invited the faithful to a Jan. 27 noontime rosary for peace at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Memphis Bishop David P. Talley posted several messages on Twitter urging prayers for the city.
“God is our refuge, we plead for peace in our city,” read one social media graphic on the bishop’s Twitter feed. “We pray for a spirit of unity, love, and peace to drive our thoughts, actions, and words.”
OSV News contacted the Diocese of Memphis for additional comment but had not yet heard back by as of publication time.
In a Jan. 27 statement provided to OSV News, the Dominican Friars of Memphis — who have care of both St. Peter Church and the adjacent St. Martin de Porres National Shrine and Institute — said they “join (the) community in praying for the soul of Tyre Nichols and for the comfort of his family during this horrible time.”
The friars said “for over 182 years, the friars and parishioners of St. Peter have seen some of the worst scenes in our city’s history,” including “the bloodshed of the Civil War, the tragic outbreak of yellow fever, the assassination of one of our nation’s brightest lights, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and now this senseless act of violence resulting in the death of Tyre Nichols.”
The Dominicans have nonetheless “remained at St. Peter preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and now “join Tyre Nichols’ family in praying for peace this weekend and for justice in these months and years ahead.”
The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, the world’s oldest and largest historically Black Catholic fraternal order, also issued a Jan. 27 statement, assuring their “prayers and love are with (Nichols’) family and loved ones.”
With Nichols’ death being one of several high-profile police-related fatalities involving Black Americans – including the May 2020 death of George Floyd, which sparked international protests — the Catholic fraternal order also declared that “on too many levels and in too many different ways, the sanctity of human life is increasingly devalued and disrespected.
“We must identify and root out the evil, hypocritical cultures that plague our country. The time for corrective action is long overdue,” said the Clavers’ statement. “We no longer ask ‘Why?’ We now demand the end of these merciless murders which show a stark lack of regard for the most precious gift of life.”