“What did I do?” were among Tyre Nichols’s last words on earth. I pray we can 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’m grateful 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’re reiterating it’s possible to advocate for justice and advocate for law enforcement simultaneously. Support for each is not mutually exclusive.
Here are seven things we’re praying for after this incident.
1. We’re praying for comfort for the Nichols family.
Parents lost a son, siblings lost a brother, a city lost a productive citizen, a company lost an employee, and a 4-year-old boy lost his father. It’s 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 we live in a broken world awaiting redemption from the King of kings.
2. We’re praying for peaceful protest as requested by the Nichols family.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that “protest is the language of the unheard.” But he never condoned violence against 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 judgeth righteously” (KJV).
3. We’re praying for all citizens to acknowledge 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. We’re praying for resourced churches to partner with underresourced churches to supersize after-school and weekend safe spaces for at-risk youth.
Law enforcement from around the country agree safe after-school places deter crime. With more than 60 percent of black and brown children being raised in single-parent homes, churches need to become surrogate parents.
Resourced churches have the human and financial capital to mobilize and empower churches in underresourced neighborhoods with material and spiritual resources. Much work is already being done. Let’s thank God 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. They’ve established mutual respect between police and clergy (who have been a liaison to the community). More than 600 clergy have completed the four-week Memphis Police Department Clergy Academy.
And although our city hasn’t been without incident, praise God the foundation has been laid for mutual understanding.
5. We’re praying for reimagined policing that includes mental health officers and addresses the systemic attitudes and abuses by law enforcement toward men of color.
Post-pandemic, every major industry (shopping, package delivery, restaurants, entertainment, banking, and even church), is being reimagined. The same must be done with law enforcement.
The repeated 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. We’re praying for redemption for the five officers.
The five black officers are sons, husbands, and beloved family members too. And although they’ve 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. We’re praying for multidisciplinary cooperation to address low-wage jobs and poverty.
Those who are financially poor are more often affected by violence—from police and from others. We’re 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 injustice in our world. We’re frustrated by the slow or inadequate or nonexistent response of those in power. We’re 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 to rescue us from sin and give us hope for a much better future—one where there’s 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.