MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Protesters outside a Memphis Police Department precinct are calling for charges to be brought against an officer who was seen firing a taser in video showing five other officers fatally beating a black man.
Protests and vigils were planned across the country on Sunday, two days after footage was released showing Memphis police officers mercilessly kicking and punching Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old father, skateboarder and FedEx employee.
The officer with the taser appears to be white – the five accused of murdering Nichols are black – and can be heard saying, “I hope they kick his ass.” The small group protesting outside the police station demanded the disclosure of his identity.
“They are accusing the black officers,” activist Casio Montez said. “We want the name of this white officer. We want him charged.”
Memphis protesters observed three minutes of silence, the length of time Nichols was beaten during a traffic stop on Jan. 7. He died three days later.
“It was the longest three minutes of silence of my life,” said activist Jennifer Cain, whose group organized the protest, which was attended by about 30 demonstrators. “That’s three minutes of beating. Three minutes of yelling and yelling for his mother.”
Protests in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon were dispersed and non-violent. In Milwaukee, Peace Action Wisconsin was among groups that sponsored a march from Red Arrow Park to a local police station.
“The bodycam footage is appalling and unviewable,” the group says on its website. “We demand justice for Nichols and all victims of police violence. We demand accountability and transparency from the police.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Oakland, California on Sunday night to demonstrate for an end to police brutality and to march for Nichols. Scores of community members and advocates spoke at the rally organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project.
“I still haven’t seen the video. I just needed to know who was involved and that was it,” Dieudonné Brou, a youth representative and program coordinator for Urban Peace Movement, said during the protest. “It’s the same thing over and over again. Then we sit in our houses and think, ‘Will this be our destiny?'”
VIDEO SHOWS VIOLENT BEATS FROM TIRE NICHOLS:He died three days later
►Other vigils and protests include events in New Haven, Connecticut; West Chester, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Missouri; Stockton, California; and Anchorage, Alaska.
►The University of Memphis resumed normal hours on Sunday after being closed “until further notice” in response to the video’s release.
►The funeral for Nichols will be held Wednesday at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis.
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When the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner called for everyone in his church to come forward or stand on Sunday morning, almost the entire congregation at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church stood up.
Turner’s Sunday sermon focused on the brutality Jesus suffered from Roman soldiers and the brutality Nichols suffered from Memphis officers, but she also looked ahead.
“We can’t sit out this,” Turner said. “We can’t just be spectators, we have to get in the fight, we have to get in the fight. And what does that mean? That doesn’t mean you hit the streets and tear up the city. That means we need to have some bold conversations with those in the lead. You don’t have to have hate in your heart to hold someone accountable.”
Turner urged the community to call leadership, even if that means calling people across the aisle, citing the partisan deadlock that has prevented the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act from becoming law.
— Gina Butkovich, Memphis Commercial Appeal
What happened to Tire Nichols?
Memphis police officers pulled over Nichols, 29, Jan. 7 on suspicion of reckless driving. The initial police report said only that there was a “confrontation,” Nichols fled on foot, and then another confrontation ensued. According to the report, Nichols then complained of shortness of breath.
Nichols was hospitalized in critical condition that night. He died three days later after suffering “profuse bleeding from severe beatings,” according to an autopsy commissioned by his family. Federal investigators opened a civil rights investigation Jan. 18. The officers were fired Jan. 20 and charged with murder and other related crimes.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump applauded the Memphis police chief and county prosecutors for the quick response, calling their efforts a “blueprint for the future.”
Video of brutal beating released
Videos released by body-worn and power pole cameras showed officers pepper spraying, kicking, punching and punching Nichols while he was held down, hitting him with a baton and shooting at him with a taser. Nichols cried out for his mother and for permission to go to his nearby home. Eventually, he lay motionless, leaning against the side of a police car as officers walked around him. An ambulance arrived more than 20 minutes later.
“This is not just a professional failure, this is a failure of basic humanity towards another person,” Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said in a statement. She described the officers’ behavior as “despicable, inconsiderate and inhumane”.
5 officers charged with second-degree murder released on bail
The five officers, all black, charged in Nichols’ death are members of SCORPION, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, the department confirmed. Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith are each charged with second-degree murder; grievous bodily harm, joint action; two counts of aggravated kidnapping; two counts of official misconduct; and official repression. All were released on bail of between $250,000 and $350,000. The indictment was set for February 17.
“Nobody out there wanted Tire Nichols to die that night,” said William Massey, Martin’s attorney.
Memphis disbands the SCORPION police unit
The 50-strong SCORPION unit was founded in 2021. Their goal was to reduce crime by 5% by concentrating officers in high-crime areas, a saturation patrol tactic used by other city police forces. City and police officials praised the unit’s statistics for arrests and weapons seized. But Antonio Romanucci, attorney for the Nichols family, said SCORPION and other specialized police units are targeting the “most vulnerable” and should be disbanded.
“These are suppression units,” he said. “And what they do is they end up oppressing the people we care about most — our children, our little sons and daughters, who are black and brown.”
Rev. Al Sharpton argued that if the units were set up to deal with egregious crimes, “why are you even dealing with a suspected traffic violation?”
The unit was disbanded on Saturday.
Two deputy sheriffs have been relieved of their duties pending investigation
Sheriff Floyd Bonner said he opened an internal investigation after viewing the videotape to determine if the deputies violated his department’s guidelines.
“I have concerns about two MPs who arrived at the scene following the physical altercation between police and Tire Nichols,” Bonner said in a statement. “These two MPs have been suspended from duty pending the completion of this administrative inquiry.”
Contribution: The Associated Press