Hours after the school day ended Friday, 16-year-old Caleb Carpenter headed to the Interstate 55 bridge that connects Memphis and Arkansas to join protesters who had gathered following the release of video footage showing the brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols.
“I’m sick of seeing all the Black on Black crimes, but now I feel safe with the police after the video I saw,” said Caleb, who attends Memphis Business Academy, a charter school. “I hated that black cops were doing this to him, and I couldn’t help but wonder why.”
The square near the bridge was the scene of similar demonstrations in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd. Now the demand for justice was for one of the city’s residents, a 29-year-old skateboarder, nature photographer, father of a 4-year-old son and FedEx employee who was just trying to walk home on January 7 when he was stopped by Memphis police officers, thrown to the ground, cursed, kicked and beaten as he cried for his mother.
Some protesters held skateboards as a sign of solidarity. Others held signs that read: “I’m Tyre Nichols,” “Justice for Tyre Nichols: Killer Cops in Jail,” and “People Demand: End Police Terror.”
There were shouts: “Call his name! Tyr Nichols” and “No Justice, No Peace”.
Dylan Goodwin, a student at Collierville High School, said Sunday that Nichols’ death heightened long-standing fears about the police.
“When it comes to black people, the first thing I’ve heard from the police is keep your hands on the wheel, be very careful with them and say, ‘Yes sir, no sir,'” said the 16-year-old, an old man who doesn’t went to protest actions.
“So now this is it [a Black man killed by police] it happened again, and it’s sad… I’ve gotten used to talking to the police, and I’m wary of the police, and I don’t particularly trust them at all.
“It’s sad because I’m 16 and I just want to live my life and enjoy it and not worry about people who are supposed to protect me.”
Memphis-Shelby County Schools dismissed students early Friday and postponed after-school activities and Saturday athletics due to concerns about possible disturbances.
At least one study suggests that police violence may also cause academic difficulties for black and brown students. A 2021 study published in Quarterly Journal of Economics focused on high school students in Los Angeles who lived in neighborhoods where police-involved homicides were common.
It found that “exposure to police violence leads to significant declines in academic achievement and performance among Black and Hispanic students….
“These effects are largest after police killings of unarmed minorities and differ significantly from those of criminal homicides, which have smaller effects that are independent of the victim’s race.”
The study found that it may also contribute to educational inequities: It is estimated that officer-involved killings caused nearly 2,000 students of color from underrepresented communities to drop out of Los Angeles schools during the period studied.
When Caleb Carpenter and other young people demand police reform, they know what’s at stake: living in a place where there’s no specter of being killed or abused by the police.
That’s why Caleb said he joined the activists on the I-55 bridge.
“I will continue to protest,” he said.
Bureau Chief Tonya Weathersby oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s education coverage. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.