Op/Ed When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail


When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The following article has been written by Mike Simonelli. It includes editorial content which is the opinion of the writer.

Before the four videos capturing the deadly beat down of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five former Memphis police officers (POs) were released to the public, Memphis Police Chief, Cerelyn Davis warned they were “about the same if not worse’’ than the video showing four white Los Angeles POs beat Rodney King on a California street back in 1991. Nichols family attorney, Mr. Benjamin Crump concurred, stating “It is going to remind many people of Rodney King.” CNN political commentator Van Jones spoke about how the Rodney King incident inspired him to be an activist attorney.

Memphis Tn. Police Department Seal
Seal of the Memphis Tn. Police Department

Despite the fact that all five of the officers involved in not only beating but killing Nichols are black, the usual suspects are intent on using his death as yet another excuse to label policing as systemically and institutionally racist. For those people, the saying that “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail” is apropos. They see everything involving the police and blacks as racist.

Op/Ed: Police Are Not Brutal Racists

In their tainted view, none of it ever has to do with a violent criminal making the officer fear for their life as Michael Brown did to Ferguson PO Darren Wilson, an otherwise good officer making an honest mistake during a split second life or death scenario as Brooklyn Center PO Kim Potter had with Daunte Wright, or on a very rare occasion such as this one – rogue officers betraying the badge. Echoing then President Obama’s inflammatory comments regarding the 2016 justified deadly shooting of Alton Sterling, President Biden said of Nichols death, “We also cannot ignore the fact that fatal encounters with law enforcement have disparately impacted Black and Brown people.”

Feguson Missouri Police Patch
Feguson Missouri Police Patch

The president’s attempt to portray five black officers brutally beating a black man to death as an example of racism exposes the myth that has been repeatedly pushed in the war on police. Oddly though, this hyper focus on racism only applies one way, as evidenced in the 2017 deadly police shooting of Justine Damond. The sole talk of racism in that case was concerns that Minneapolis PO Mohamed Noor wouldn’t receive a fair trial because he was black. More recently there have been no allegations of racism when an unarmed white Daniel Vallee was shot by two black Louisiana deputies, nor when unarmed 12-year-old Thomas Siderio was shot in the back by a Latino Philadelphia PO. With zero evidence race was involved in Nichols death nor the other incidents politicized to paint the police as racist merely because the subject killed was black – such allegations should be considered lies and the incidents reexamined. But instead of focusing on them through a racial lens as was originally done, they should be viewed through the perspective of a trained officer.

He resisted arrest, grabbed at an officer’s duty belt, then (unsuccessfully) sued hoping for a $1M payout

Starting with the atrocity at hand, any officer examining all four videos undoubtedly keyed in on the fact that what those five thugs did to Tyre Nichols is not taught in any police academy or training manual. From the way they first approached Nichols’ vehicle to their field goal kicks to his head as he was held down and the haymakers to his face as he was being held up – those were not the actions of trained police professionals.

Officers are taught: to immediately gain control over the subjects’ hands; use the minimum amount of force necessary to effect the arrest; to escalate up the use of force continuum according to the perceived threat; deescalate the situation as soon as appropriate; and the golden rule – the fight is over once the handcuffs are on. Every one of those rules were broken as the officers appeared more intent on using Nichols as a punching bag then handcuffing him.

Op/Ed When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail
copyright free stock photo

By contrast, look at how officers followed their training in these incidents that were manipulated to incite dangerous anti-police rhetoric: Eric Garner – In 2014 when told by NYPD officers he was under arrest for selling loose cigarettes, Garner refused to comply. PO Pantaleo used a department authorized takedown to bring the larger 6’3” 350 pound man to the ground. As Garner continued to resist, PO Pantaleo used a compliance hold on him as a black supervisor looked on. Garner was not beaten, Tased, pepper-sprayed, nor hit with an asp. Tragically, with his multitude of health problems (heart disease, severe asthma, diabetes, and obesity) Garner suffered a heart attack afterward in the ambulance and died soon later.

Alton Sterling – In 2016 two Baton Rouge POs confronted Alton Sterling after he threatened a passerby with a gun. Sterling refused to be arrested, fought off the officers’ attempts to handcuff him and was unaffected by the Taser. After the officers wrestled Sterling to the ground, only when Sterling physically tried to access the gun seen outlined in his pocket did PO Salamoni use deadly force.

Louisville police move to fire two more officers in Breonna Taylor case – even though they’re not charged with a crime

Breonna Taylor – In 2020 Louisville POs conducted a “knock and announce” warrant at her residence. They used no force until after being shot at by Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend. Sgt. Mattingly sustained a gunshot wound to his leg which he nearly bled to death from. Reasonably fearing for their lives, the officer’s returned fire in the direction of the gunfire. Sadly, Breonna Taylor was fatally hit. The officers in these incidents used the least amount of force possible and only escalated that force in
direct response to the actions of the subjects they were dealing with during the lawful performance of their duties. Police critics have to go back to 1991 to find a suitable comparison to Nichols because since then there has been a massive improvement in policing directed at treating people of all races with courtesy, professionalism and respect.

And the results speak for themselves – an average law abiding American of any color is substantially more likely to be struck by lightning than unjustifiably killed by a law enforcement officer. Tyre Nichols was one such person because he wasn’t dealing with officers, he was struck down by five perps with badges.

About the author:
Mike Simonelli is a retired US Army officer with 30 years of military service who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; an active police officer in New York for 23 years; the Suffolk County PBA Sgt-at-Arms and holds a master’s degree in National Security Studies from American Military University.  His book on policing can be found at www.jdfinformation.com.


Op/Ed When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

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