Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer

Black political and religious leaders held a press conference on Saturday to mourn the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis Police and linked the incident to Randy Cox’s paralyzation by New Haven Police. 

The gathering — held at First Calvary Baptist Church — was organized by frequent police critic Reverend Boise Kimber in response to the Friday release of footage showing Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, being fatally beaten by five Memphis police officers on Jan. 7. Nichols was pulled over for what police alleged, without evidence, was “reckless driving.” He died from his injuries three days later. 

“Here we are, standing with heavy hearts and wondering why did this happen?” Kimber said. “Bad policing, whether you are black or whether you are white, bad policing needs to be dealt with and punished, and jailed.”

Kimber said that watching the videos of police beating Nichols reminded him of the case of Randy Cox. Cox sustained spine and neck injuries last June — leaving him paralyzed — when the NHPD officer driving a transport van he was in stopped abruptly to avoid a car crash. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the officer drove Cox to the police detention center where other officers dragged Cox out of the van, processed him in a wheelchair, and put him into a holding cell, all without providing medical care.

Benjamin Crump, a nationally-renowned civil rights attorney who is representing both Nichols and Cox, further emphasized the parallels between the cases in a statement. 

“While Randy Cox is still with us today, there are stark similarities to the police encounter that left him paralyzed and the one that robbed Tyre’s mother of her son,” Crump told the New Haven Independent. “We see a complete disregard for human life with not an ounce of empathy. We also witnessed the officers failing to provide any medical assistance.” 

All five officers involved in Cox’s case have been arrested on misdemeanor charges, and an NHPD Internal Affairs investigation into their wrongdoing is ongoing. The officers involved in the murder of Nichols have been fired and are facing felony charges. 

“I like what they did in Memphis,” Kimber said. “They did not take three, four, five or six months to decide on firing these individuals. They moved swiftly.” 

New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson explained to the News that NHPD uses a different system for hiring and firing police officers than the Memphis Police Department. In Memphis, the Police Chief fired five officers responsible for the murder. In New Haven, only the Board of Police Commissioners has the power to hire or fire officers, while the Chief merely provides a recommendation. 

Other speakers at the church focused more on policing changes they wanted to see both in New Haven and Connecticut.

Community activist Rodney Williams called on the city government to acknowledge the history of police violence in New Haven, specifically in the majority-black neighborhood of Newhallville.

“The cut keeps getting cut open when we see [the Nichols video] because the trauma comes back to what they did to us,” Williams said. “To this day they say they’re doing different policing but never said ‘we’re sorry for how we treated you.’”

Also at the presser was State Senator Herron Gaston, who represents Bridgeport and Stratford and serves as the Senate chair of the state legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

In his remarks, Gaston called for “major reform” in police departments and discussed requiring police to inform motorists why they were pulled over. He also expressed support for a proposed Medical Miranda” bill, which would require police to contact emergency medical services when someone in police custody experiences a medical emergency. 

“The law enforcement community must also understand that this is just not a fraternity where you get to enjoy the privileges of just being members,” Gaston said. “You work for the taxpayers, and you should be accountable to the taxpayers.” 

Gaston emphasized that the vast majority of cops were doing good work and that he was not anti law enforcement. He also stressed that the changes that needed to be made were as much moral as legal — within the “hearts and minds” of police officers.

In a joint statement issued by Jacobson and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker after the release of the videos of Nichols’ murder, the city officials condemned the police violence and stressed their commitment for police to treat Elm City residents with respect.

“We are resolved – in our policing, policies, and practices – to provide fair and impartial treatment of all residents and to ensure equal justice under the law,” the statement read.

Connecticut passed a major police accountability bill in 2020.

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.