Once again, there are demonstrations against police brutality in the United States following the death of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old black man died on January 10 after he was beaten by officers of the Memphis Police three days earlier. It was a simple traffic stop that resulted in a violent arrest and the subsequent death of a father of one.
Three weeks after the tragic incident, as expected, the Memphis Police released footage of the arrest to the public. After the release, neither the police nor the public has something good to say about the actions of the five officers involved in the brutal treatment of the young man.
“This is not just a professional failing,” Davis Cerelyn, Memphis Police Chief, stated days before the release of the video. “This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane. And in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.”
Americans and the world saw for themselves, as Davis stated. It was possibly more heinous, inhumane, and reckless than how it was described by the police chief. Even mental health experts have warned about viewing the footage and called on those that couldn’t take what’s in it to seek mental help.
The content of the footage
The almost nine minutes video was a combination of what was obtained from the body cameras of the officers involved in the incident and moments captured by a CCTV camera in a pole close to the scene.
At 8:24 p.m., the body camera of one officer showed Nichols’ first contact with the Police. Several policemen approached his vehicle, and one of them yelled: “You’re gonna get your head blown the fuck up.” He was forcefully pulled out of the car and forced to the ground. “I’m just trying to go home. I’m not doing anything,” Nichols tells the officers.
A minute later, one of the overzealous officers sprayed Nichols’s face with pepper spray. Getting back on his feet, Nichols ran as fast as he could away from the officers.
Fast forward to 8:32 p.m., the officers caught Nichols after they pursued him on foot. Despite trying to explain himself, one of the officers was heard telling Nichols to “shut the fuck up.” At this point, the officers were struggling with him on the ground and spraying pepper spray on his face, while he yells “mum.”
After kicking and punching him for several minutes, the officers managed to prop him against a police vehicle. It was obvious that the man was gasping for breath, but there was almost nothing the police could do to help him. It took medical personnel 21 minutes before they arrived at the scene to assist, and it was past 9:00 p.m. before an ambulance showed up. He was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition.
On January 10, three days after the encounter, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Nichols died as a result of the injuries sustained in the “use of force incident.”
“What I saw on the video today was horrific. No father or mother should have to witness what I saw today.” Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said on Monday when the family viewed the footage before its release.
“He was defenceless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That is what we saw in that video. Not only was it violent, it was savage,” Romanucci, the family’s attorney, stated.
Officers were members of the SCORPION unit
Following the release of the video, the Memphis Police Department identified and dismissed the officers involved in the incident. Their names are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin, and Desmond Mills Jr. All five former officers were said to be members of the SCORPION Unit.
“The officers who have been terminated were members of the SCORPION Unit,” Major Karen Rudolph, the spokesperson of the Memphis Police Department, said in a statement Saturday.
All the officers have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression.
Black officers killing a black man
Unlike most cases of police brutality against black people in the US, all five officers involved in the mishandling of Nichol are black men. Hence, Nichol’s death is not in any way connected to racism.
“I hate the fact that it was five black men that actually did this to another black man. My son probably was their age,” Ms Wells, Nichol’s mother, told MSNBC on Sunday.
“They just brought disgrace to themselves. I’m not an evil person, my son is not an evil person… I pray for (the officers’) families because their families didn’t deserve any of this either,” she added.
The unfortunate incident can be best described as a clear case of negligence and possibly incompetence. However, others have argued that the training received by the SCORPION Police Unit is too complex for simple issues like reckless driving.
SCORPION Police Unit deactivated
Following the death of Tyre Nichols and complaints from members of his family and the general public, the Memphis Police Department said it would deactivate the SCORPION Unit permanently.
“In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit. The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step,” the statement by the Memphis Police Department reads. a statement from the police department reads.
The statement added that the decision was necessary so it could help in the healing process of all those impacted by the death of Mr Nichols.
“The Memphis Police Department remains committed to serving our community and taking every measure possible to rebuild the trust that has been negatively affected by the death of Mr Tyre Nichols,” the statement added.
The police Unit was established in 2021. Officers in the SCORPION Unit have the responsibility of fighting serious crimes like homicides, robberies, assaults and other felonies. So far, the Unit has contributed significantly to the reduction of crime in the city. However, handling cases of less severe wrongdoings are not part of their duties, hence they treated Mr Nichols as an armed robber.
Although many have commended the Police department for deactivating the unit, others feel it was not enough to stop the multiple cases of police brutality. They called for a complete reform of the police.
“Putting lipstick on a pig”
Following the disbandment of the SCORPION Unit of the Memphis Police Department, many are wondering what will become of the officials of the Unit because definitely, they are not being dismissed from Department. The city’s council chair, Martavius Jones, Saturday, said deactivating the Unit without new training amounts to “putting lipstick on a pig.”
“If … we give it a new name but they have the same tactics … if there are no new training ideas, if there are not new directives, then we’re just putting lipstick on a pig,” Mr Jones told CNN.
He called on legislators in the State to make laws that would prevent such incidents from further happening.
“Now, it’s up to the council to act,” Jones continued. “We need to have an overall review of the various units within law enforcement.
As for any scrutiny of other law enforcement on the scene of Nichols’ deadly beating, Jones will “trust the process,” he said.
Patrice Robinson, another member of the Memphis City council, said citizens were demanding answers to a whole lot of questions and there was an urgent need to first of all “investigate what is going on” and ensure that the community is safe.
“Our community deserves better. We have to fight the bad players in our community, and now we’ve got to fight our own police officers. That is deplorable,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have to do something.”
Protesters demand justice across the US
Since the release of the video, protesters across the United States have again taken to the streets to demand justice for the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.
On Saturday, there were demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland. Most of the protesters were carrying placards with the name Tyre Nichols on them.
While the rest people in the US are on the street demonstrating, Memphis, the home of Tyre Nichols, is mourning. For them, there is an urgent need to reform the Police Department in order for it to regain the people’s trust.
Republicans and Democrats have unanimously condemned the actions of the five police officers involved in the beating of Tyre Nichols. The two immediate past presidents of the United States, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, on Saturday, added their voices to the call for Police reform across the United States.
“The vicious, unjustified beating of Tyre Nichols and his ultimate death at the hands of five Memphis police officers is just the latest, painful reminder of how far America still has to go in fixing how we police our streets,” Barack and Michelle Obamas said in a joint statement on Saturday.
“You have to get the right people that know when you have to be tough and when not to be tough,” Trump told reporters on Saturday. “This was a case of being very, very tough, overly, overly crazy and it was sad to watch. He was begging for his mother. That was a sad thing to watch. And, you know, that’s not a question of reform. That’s a question of having people that understand what you have to do and understand life.”
Like the former Presidents, top politicians across the United States have added their voices in condemning the unprofessional attitudes of the officers.