Christian leaders are calling for prayer, peace and reform after the release of video footage showing Memphis, Tenn., police officers brutally beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died three days later.
All five police officers have been dismissed and charged.
Pastor Kenneth Thomas of Mt. Olive Cathedral Church in Memphis told the Associated Press that the city has "had calm so far, which is what we have been praying for." During Sunday's service, Thomas prayed for the city and for the family of Nichols. Nichols' family last week spoke at the church, urging calm.
"We ask your blessings upon the city of Memphis," Thomas prayed. "We thank You for showing Yourself mighty and strong among us all throughout the community. Lord, we ask that You will bless each and every citizen of this community, of this city. We lift again the family of Tyre Nichols. We ask that You would shower them with Your blessings. Remind them of Your ever-abiding presence."
A.R. Bernard Sr., the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said, "I am saddened by the murder of Tyre Nichols. First, because of the ongoing abuse of power by those we place in positions of trust. Secondly, as a person of color, it was our hopes that having persons of color in those positions would help change the narrative. But here we are again! And unfortunately, the many become judged by the few."
My official statement regarding Tyre Nichols. pic.twitter.com/CxWcOCG4DD— A. R. Bernard (@ARBernard) January 28, 2023
Rufus Smith IV, the senior pastor of Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Memphis, said he is grieving but also "grateful" that the officers were quickly dismissed and charged. Smith, in a Gospel Coalition column, said he's praying for "reimagined policing."
"The repetitive occurrences of police brutality toward people of color, especially men, must change. Effort and vigilance are necessary to shift from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality," Smith wrote. "This is good work for Christians, who cannot ignore the systemic or endemic attitudes that lead to injustice and abuse of authority."
W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), issued a statement prior to the release of the video saying Nichols' family "deserves justice and transparency."
"Thirty-two years after the brutal beating of Rodney King, driving while Black remains one of the greatest threats to our safety," Richardson said. "There is no excuse for what transpired in Memphis, no justification for the fact that Tyre Nichols will not return to his four-year-old son.
That the officers who killed Tyre were Black is painful and appalling and points to a deeper issue: brutality is so engrained in police departments that not even the color of officers' skin is enough to stop the ever-present violence inflicted against Black Americans by the police. … Our nation needs a single message to resound from Memphis: abhorrent crimes against Black people, at the hands of those who are there to protect and serve us, cannot and shall not be tolerated."
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, called the attack on Nichols "evil."
"What happened to Tyre Nichols should never have happened -- it was cruel, unjust, and evil," Graham wrote on Facebook. "Our hearts break for his family. His mother said, 'I'll never cook for my son again… I'll never get a hug from my son again.' Pray for her, for Tyre's 4-year-old son, and for all of his loved ones who are hurting. The heinous actions of these five officers does not mean that people should start talking about defunding the police. On the contrary, it means just the opposite. We need more funding and support for law enforcement for better training, vetting, hiring, and increasing salaries so we will have the best of the best. God help us."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.