Tyre Nichols and Prayers for Change – Rufus Smith

“What did I do?” were among Tyre Nichols’s last words on earth. I pray that we could someday say, “Tyre’s death initiated a paradigm shift in police reform in Memphis—and other major metropolitan cities.”

For everything that went horribly wrong in this fatal traffic stop, I am grateful that a few things went right. In the past, the norm for incidents like these has been months of vacillation from authorities, which breeds speculation, suspicion, fear, and distrust. Ecclesiastes 8:11 warns about the need for speed, “When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong” (NLT).

In the Nichols case, police chief Cerelyn Davis and district attorney Steven Mulroy created new norms of speed, transparency, and accountability:

Speedy termination of police officers (within due process of days, not months)
Speedy public identification of officers
Speedy criminal charges
Speedy release of the video (without compromising the investigation)
Speedy inclusion of the U.S. Department of Justice
Speedy organization of meetings between city leaders and clergy, community leaders, and grassroots leaders for critical dialogue

In my church, we are reiterating that it’s possible to advocate for justice and advocate for law enforcement simultaneously. Support for both is not mutually exclusive.

Here are seven things we’re praying for after this incident.

1. Comfort for the Nichols family

Parents lost a son, a city lost a productive citizen, siblings lost a brother, a company lost an employee, a 4-year-old son lost his father. It is doubly difficult to grieve with the eyes of a nation upon you. This family needs the divine Comforter along with other human beings to console them in this hour of bereavement. Once again sin and death are evidence that we live in a broken world awaiting redemption from the King of Kings.

2. Peaceful protest as requested by the Nichols family

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “protest is the language of the unheard.” But he never condoned violence to property or people. He was unequivocal in promoting peaceful civil disobedience. His movement modeled the words of 1 Peter 2:23 about Jesus, “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously” (KJV).

3. Acknowledgement by all citizens that ‘Memphis, we have a problem’

The old preachers used to say, “Sometimes the Lord has to shake us, wake us, and then remake us.”

Memphis is being shaken right now by this senseless death. All citizens—rich and poor, young and old, those who live in manicured suburbs as well as those who live in blighted neighborhoods—can see we have an endemic problem. Each must acknowledge both personal accountability and structural injustice as twin culprits of many social ills. Unfortunately, we often argue for one side or the other—but it’s both.

4. Resourced churches intentionally partnering with under-resourced churches to supersize after-school and weekend safe spaces for highly at-risk youth

Law enforcement from around the country agree that safe places after school deter crime. With more than 60 percent of black and brown children being raised in a single-parent home, it is incumbent that churches become surrogate parents.

Resourced churches have the human and financial capital to mobilize and empower churches in under-resourced neighborhoods with material and spiritual resources. Much work is already being done. Let’s thank God for that, and ask him to show us ways we might bring even more resources to bear.

For 55 years, Memphis leaders have worked diligently and intentionally to employ police officers ethnically proportionate to the population. Plus, they have established mutual respect between police and clergy (who have been a liaison to the community). More than 600 clergy have completed a four-week Memphis Police Department Clergy Academy.

And although our city has not been without incident, praise God the foundation has been laid for mutual understanding.

5. Reimagined policing that includes mental health officers as well as addresses the systemic attitudes and abuses by law enforcement toward men of color

Post pandemic, every major industry (online shopping, package delivery, restaurants, entertainment, banking and even church), is being re-imagined. The same must be done with law enforcement.

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. This is good work for Christians, who cannot ignore the systemic or endemic attitudes that lead to injustice and abuse of authority.

6. Redemption for the five officers

The five black officers are sons, husbands, and beloved family members too. And although they have committed a heinous crime, the gospel offers justice and forgiveness. They will need spiritual nurturing by Christ and his church. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, KJV). And “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 KJV).

7. Multi-disciplinary cooperation to attack low wage jobs and poverty

Those who are financially poor are more often affected by violence—from police and from others. We are praying for neighborhood-specific roundtables to catalyze educators, government, business leaders, clergy, and community activists planning a way forward.

I’m encouraged that several organizations such as the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, Concerned Citizens of Memphis, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope, and Church Development Network are beginning to catalyze efforts by building trust, listening, and learning from each other.

Hold On to God’s Truth

Too often, we see the injustice in our world. We are frustrated by the slow or inadequate or nonexistent response of those in power. We are angry at the terrible things human beings do to each other.

We must hold on to this: God is both sovereign and trustworthy—he knows everything that happens (Isa. 45:7–9) and is working it for good (Rom. 8:28). He sent Jesus to die rescue us from sin and give us hope for a much better future—one where there is no violence or death, no injustice or pain. Because we know that, and because we have the Holy Spirit, we can pray and work against injustice here with tireless energy and a peaceful heart.

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