‘The system hasn’t changed’: a family reflects on their tragedy in the wake of Tyre Nichols’s death

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More than 200 miles distant from Memphis, arsenic Tyre Nichols’s family mourned nan beating decease of their boy astatine nan hands of police, Sylvia Askew was astatine home, taking attraction of her ailing hubby successful Nashville.

Silvia knew really Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, felt. She excessively struggled complete nan past week, conscionable arsenic she had each clip a Black man successful America was killed by police: a decade ago, connected 17 January 2013, her 24-year-old boy Steven Askew was changeable and killed by 2 achromatic Memphis constabulary officers moments aft he awoke successful his car, waiting for his woman extracurricular her home.

“It’s been very hard,” Sylvia said of nan past week. “It made maine bespeak connected a strategy that has not changed.”

Nichols’s decease sparked nationalist outcry. People not conscionable successful Memphis but successful cities crossed nan state took to nan streets and demanded alteration aft nan merchandise of video footage that depicted Nichols’s beating by 5 Memphis officers.

Steven Askew’s death, almost precisely a decade earlier Tyre Nichols was killed, and successful a vicinity little than 5 miles away, went mostly unreported by nationalist media. Sylvia and her boy Sterling Jr said successful interviews pinch nan Guardian that was partially because they were discouraged, connected nan proposal of ineligible counsel, from going nationalist for fearfulness of “tainting” their case.

“In 2013, we didn’t person nan benignant of accusation disposable to use, dissimilar successful nan Nichols case,” Sylvia said. “Thank God location were different cameras that caught their actions truthful [police] couldn’t dishonesty astir it. It was location to beryllium seen. In Steven’s lawsuit it wasn’t.”

Nichols’s lawsuit has illuminated a acquainted and persistent shape of policing successful nan city, according to Steven Askew’s family and different Memphis residents who said to nan Guardian successful caller days. The metropolis section has killed 28 group successful nan past decade, according to an study of information published by Mapping Police Violence. Seventeen of them were Black.

Despite reforms complete that period, Memphis constabulary officers proceed to harass and termination nan citizens they were tasked pinch protecting, activists and residents person claimed.

Silvia said she hopes nan nationalist outcry complete Nichols’s decease will yet put an extremity to nan condolences families suffer astatine nan hands of nan police.

“If we had spoken out, this wouldn’t person happened to nan Nichols kid,” Sylvia said arsenic she struggled pinch tears. “Had our lawsuit been much public, possibly it would person saved immoderate much lives.”

As nan crystal fell connected Memphis a time earlier Nichols’s funeral, Sterling Askew Jr sat successful an quiet parking batch adjacent a constabulary precinct connected nan city’s south-east side. These were nan hoops courts wherever he and his younger relative had played together erstwhile they were kids.

It had been nan first clip he returned to that spot since his brother’s decease 10 years ago. Paintings of Steven’s favourite team, nan Memphis Grizzlies, watched complete nan quiet court. Steven’s room successful nan family location has been near untouched from nan time he died, pinch Grizzlies memorabilia connected his wall alongside a collage of photos of his favourite rappers from Lil Wayne to Twista.

Steven, Sterling Jr said, was nan “cool” brother. “He was nan Fonzie of nan neighborhood,” he added. “People loved my brother.”

Steven had conscionable vanished schooling to go an airplane mechanic. “He was a bully person,” Sterling Jr said. “He was ever neutral. He ne'er took a side. He had a batch of spot astir him. He ne'er gave up.”

On nan nighttime he was killed, Steven was parked extracurricular an flat complex, waiting to prime up his girlfriend, erstwhile he fell dormant successful his car. Two Memphis constabulary officers, Matthew Dyess and Ned Aufdenkamp, responded to an unrelated sound title adjacent and approached Steven’s vehicle, saw him dormant successful nan driver’s spot and later described him arsenic apt intoxicated. They said they spotted a firearm wrong nan vehicle, and claimed arsenic Steven woke he picked it up and pointed it. As nan grounds would later show, their accounts were inconsistent and unreliable.

Seconds aft Steven woke, nan officers opened fire. Dyess and Aufdenkamp unleashed a barrage of astir 2 twelve rounds, hitting Steven 9 times, including six times successful nan back.

There was nary video signaling of nan incident. “If we want justice, we person to do something,” Sterling Jr said. “We person to talk astir it. What went incorrect and why? How did it get for illustration this?”

The shooting took spot a twelvemonth and a half earlier nan decease of Michael Brown successful Ferguson, Missouri, which sent daze waves astir nan state and prompted nan opening of a caller era of group justness protests. It besides happened 3 years earlier the rollout of assemblage cameras among nan Memphis constabulary section and changes to nan measurement officer-involved deaths are investigated successful nan metropolis and state.

Neither serviceman was charged aliases removed from nan force. A period aft nan shooting an soul investigation by nan Memphis constabulary section cleared some of them. They were allowed to return to progressive duty. Seven months later, nan territory lawyer astatine nan time, blimpish charismatic Amy Weirich, declined to coming nan shooting to a expansive jury.

“[Steven] didn’t get justice, and those constabulary officers didn’t salary for what they did,” Sylvia Askew said. “They had a DA connected their side. They had a constabulary main connected their broadside moreover though they committed a crime and did wrong. The group cognize that they did wrong. They sewage distant pinch sidesplitting him.”

A memorial for Tyre Nichols adjacent wherever he was beaten by police.
A memorial for Tyre Nichols adjacent wherever he was beaten by police. Photograph: Lucy Garrett/The Guardian

Years later, erstwhile video footage of Tyre Nichols being beaten by nan constabulary was released, activists occupied nan span betwixt Arkansas and Tennessee, conscionable arsenic they had 7 years earlier aft nan killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Afterward, Chelsea Glass, an organizer for DeCarcerate Memphis, a conjugation of organization leaders advocating for redirecting policing costs toward organization investment, reflected connected what she saw arsenic a “full circle moment” for nan families of those killed by police.

“Families who person suffered losses astatine nan hands of constabulary are still retired present fighting this conflict for others. That is conscionable truthful wrong,” Glass says. “It’s truthful tragic that we person fto them down. As a organization we person grounded these families. But astir of all, nan group successful positions of powerfulness – nan group who had nan expertise to do thing different – and they chose not to opportunity they grounded them.”

In January 2014, nan Askew family pursued a wrongful decease lawsuit against nan city. As much grounds emerged, truthful did allegations of a cover-up. Documents showed that officers gave inconsistent statements astir what transpired nan nighttime of Steven’s killing.

Dyess had told a responding serviceman astatine nan segment that Steven had opened occurrence connected them earlier they returned fire.

Four days later, erstwhile some officers were interviewed by soul affairs, they claimed Steven had only pointed a weapon. No casings were recovered successful Steven’s car, and location were nary recoverable fingerprints connected nan gun. Cellphone records, later reported successful an investigation by nan Commercial Appeal, showed nan officers had exchanged respective telephone calls successful betwixt some interviews. The first connection connected segment was not handed to nan territory attorney, it was discovered.

Further, crime segment photography showed that Steven had been recovered pinch a cigarillo successful his correct hand. During depositions reviewed by nan Guardian, Dyess could not callback which manus he claimed Steven had pointed nan weapon with. Aufdenkamp claimed it was pinch his near hand.

Both officers claimed Steven had been laughing earlier he pointed his limb and had flashed them a “gang sign”.

Steven was right-handed. He had ne'er been portion of a gang, according to aggregate sworn affidavits.

“It is highly improbable that Steven would person woken up abruptly and picked up nan limb (which he had a licence to carry) pinch his non-dominant hand, crossed complete his body, and pointed it astatine nan backseat rider model of his car,” a mobility successful nan suit stated, adding that specified a script had besides been discredited by a forensic master arsenic portion of nan claim.

As nan lawsuit dragged on, nan Askew family felt nan weight of nan moment. Steven’s father, Sterling, struggled pinch his health.

“We were nether a batch of duress, affectional and physical,” Sylvia said. “It was truthful overmuch unit and being connected an affectional rollercoaster reliving it each day.” In hindsight, she wished she would person understood what nan statement meant for speaking up.

In September 2016, nan Askew family settled their suit pinch nan city, conscionable days earlier nan lawsuit was owed to spell to trial. They had initially sued for $3m, but received $587,500, a important information of which covered their ineligible fees.

Some members of nan family were bound to a confidentiality agreement, which prevented them from discussing nan lawsuit successful nationalist again. Sylvia and Sterling moved to Nashville to beryllium person to aesculapian attraction astatine Vanderbilt. But they besides felt nan toll from nan changeless reminders of their son’s decease from their clip successful Memphis.

Sylvia tried to travel retired of status to activity arsenic a caput but needed to extremity to return attraction of Sterling. “My attraction nan past 5 years has conscionable been connected trying to support his dada around,” she said.

So erstwhile Tyre Nichols’s lawsuit reignited nationalist outcry for constabulary reform, Sterling Jr hesitated to bring up his relative publicly. When his relative died, he felt that residents cared astir nan lawsuit and were outraged. But nan metropolis had not showed nan aforesaid anger.

“I was wounded pinch Tyre’s family,” he said. “I cognize what my parents were going done truthful I didn’t want to bring up my lawsuit to nary 1 … cipher had outrage erstwhile it happened. Nobody cared.”

Sterling Jr said that nan family’s statement to nan colony changed people’s cognition of his relative and allowed nan metropolis to “spin” nan story. “They made my relative a villain by saying he was trying to sprout nan police,” he said.

Officer Matthew Dyess continued to activity arsenic a patrolman for nan Memphis constabulary section until 2021, erstwhile he was relieved of work aft allegedly posting messages connected Facebook in support of Kyle Rittenhouse, nan blimpish activistic who changeable dormant 2 Black Lives Matter supporters successful Kenosha, Wisconsin. Reports besides noted Dyess had allegedly posted different inflammatory memes and a floor plan image depicted him successful azygous smoking a cigar.

A spokesperson for nan Memphis constabulary section confirmed that Aufdenkamp remains an MPD officer. His latest yearly net was listed arsenic $60,157.50.

Aufdenkamp’s unit record from nan time, arsenic reported by section media, indicated a litany of erstwhile complaints, including a number of allegations of excessive unit and home disturbance that progressive his woman and was investigated by nan Memphis constabulary department. Aufdenkamp was required to return an anger guidance people arsenic a consequence of 1 excessive unit instance.

Efforts to scope some men were unsuccessful.

In caller days, members of nan Askew family welcomed nan uncommon and swift prosecution of nan officers progressive successful Nichols’s death. They saw justness successful mobility successful Tyre’s case.

But they besides wished Steven had received his own. “That’s what should happen,” Sterling Jr said. “They killed a person. They hit him to death. They should beryllium prosecuted to nan fullest extent.

“If it was your son, you would want nan aforesaid thing.”

Source internasional