Video of Memphis officers hitting Nichols tires causes widespread terror

MEMPHIS – The release of video footage showing Memphis police officers punching, kicking and pepper-spraying Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, drew a swift response from law enforcement officials, bipartisan legislators, Black Lives Matter activists and many others across the country.

Their message is a unified expression of horror and disgust. The footage, released by city officials Friday night, captures what police initially described as a routine traffic stop on January 7 as an outbreak of violence directed at Mr. who died three days later.

However, protesters in Memphis and around the country have largely heeded days of pleas from Mr. Nichols’ family and others to keep the peace. Several dozen people marched in Memphis on Friday night, spilling onto an interstate highway and blocking a major bridge; Another protest was planned for Saturday afternoon.

Protesters have rallied in Washington, DC, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta and in Times Square in Manhattan. Officials said minor acts of vandalism were carried out during a protest outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, which was stopped by police in riot gear.

Josh Spickler, chief executive of Just City, a civil rights organization in Memphis, said: “The video is all about the horrors that have been described to us, referring to days of warnings from officials. law enforcement and Mr. Nichols’ family about the content. of the movie.

City officials in Memphis decided shortly after the incident to make the video public as a step towards transparency. Four separate clips, from police and pole-mounted surveillance cameras, were shared online, totaling nearly an hour of footage.

On Thursday, prosecutors announced that five Memphis police officers had been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’ death. Nearly a week earlier, the same officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired by the Memphis Police Department after an internal investigation found they used excessive force and failed to intervene or provide aid, as agency policy requires them to do.

Attorneys for the officers have urged the community to avoid rushing into judgment. Blake Ballin, who is representing Mr Mills, said in a statement that the videos “generate as many questions as they have answers”.

The Memphis Police Association, which represents officers, said in a written statement that it condemns “the mistreatment of ANY citizen and ANY abuse of power.”

“We have faith in the Criminal Justice System,” said Lieutenant Essica Cage-Rosario, the union president. “That trust is what we will be relying on in the coming days, weeks and months to make sure the entire situation is revealed.”

After the video was released, Police Chief Floyd Bonner Jr. of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said that two deputies featured in the footage were “removed” pending an investigation after he became concerned about what he was seeing. Separately, the Memphis Fire Department said that two of its officers were also being investigated for their actions at the scene.

Mr Nichols was stopped on the evening of January 7 as he was on his way to the house he shared with his mother and stepfather in the southeast corner of Memphis. Mr Nichols, who was pulled out of the car by police, can be heard in the video saying: “I was just trying to get home.”

Mr. Nichols ran away on foot, and when officers caught up with him, he was kicked, beaten with batons and pepper sprayed, at one point shouting: “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

According to the video, officers escalated the use of force and gave conflicting orders, repeatedly asking Mr. Nichols to hold out his hand, even as other officers kept his hand behind his back while a someone else punched him. After officers pepper sprayed and beat Mr. Nichols, they left him sitting on the ground unsupervised and handcuffed, and when paramedics arrived, they stood there for more than 16 minutes without proceeding. treatment.

According to preliminary results, an independent autopsy commissioned by his family found Mr Nichols was “bleeding heavily from the brutal beating”.

As police departments around the country responded, law enforcement officials said the actions shown in the video challenged what officers are trained to do. “What I saw in that video is not true,” said Deputy Sheriff Gerald Woodyard of the Los Angeles Police Department, who commands the South Los Angeles area. “What’s going on in their mind, I don’t know.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and expert on law enforcement, called the officers’ actions “the definition of excessive force.” Ed Obayashi, a police training specialist and attorney who conducts investigations into the use of force, said the severity of what he saw in the video was alarming. “I’ve never seen an individual try to fight back to get hit,” he said.

The video, however, reflects something painfully familiar, as the country has repeatedly grappled with famous cases of Black men and women in deadly clashes with police, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Gerald Griggs, president of the NAACP Georgia, said at a rally in Atlanta: “What I saw last night in that video shocked me to the bone, but I can’t say I’ve never seen it before. .

The video is seen by activists and others as an indictment of the country’s policing culture and of each officer in the footage. “It’s the norm at this point,” said Kori John, a teacher in Brooklyn. “Black men are killed by the police force, by even black police officers.”

Mr. Nichols’ family is calling for legislation requiring officers to intervene when they see a colleague using excessive force. They have also asked the Memphis Police Department to disband the specialized team that patrols high crime areas, known as the Scorpion unit, of which the officers charged in Mr. Nichols’ death were part. On Saturday, Memphis Police officials announced that the department is deactivating the unit.

In Sacramento, where Nichols grew up before moving to Memphis, family members planned a candlelight vigil for Monday and local authorities urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the video made him “angry, saddened and disgusted,” and Kathy Lester, the city’s police chief, called the Memphis officers’ actions “inhuman and inexcusable.” ” and Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper said the “horrible acts committed by some of these officers do not reflect the values ​​of this office or law enforcement as a whole.”

In Memphis, in the days before the video was released, city officials, civic leaders and Nichols’ family pleaded with the community not to let the protests become destructive. The relatively swift criminal charges, which Mr Nichols’ family welcomed, may have helped prevent the fires.

Even so, anger and hurt remained, prompting some protesters to mobilize on Friday night and plan more rallies in the coming days.

Hunter Dempster, an organizer of Decarcerate Memphis, a group that promotes accountability and fairness in the criminal justice system, said he and others are blocking the Interstate 55 bridge leading from Memphis came to Arkansas because they were “tired of empty promises”.

“In the end,” he said, “where can we lean?”

Many people describe watching the video as painful. “I can’t believe no one thinks ‘we don’t have to keep hitting this man.’,” Nino Brown, an organizer of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said at a meeting. Nichols memorial service in Chicago.

Others, including Brooklyn teacher John, have decided not to watch it, saying the burden of watching that kind of trauma outweighs any benefits from watching it.

“I don’t want to see it – I can’t see it,” she said. “Painful. We’ve seen that video so many times before.”

Report contributed by Jesus Jimenez and Jessica Jaglois from Memphis; Robert Chiarito from Chicago; Shawn Hubler from Sacramento; Sean Keenan from Atlanta; Douglas Morino from Los Angeles; and Neelam Bohra, Hurubi Meko and Wesley Parnell from New York. Mike Ives also contributed reports.


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