By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
Editor’s note: The videos at the end of this article contain graphic and violent content.
The city of Memphis, Tennessee on Friday night released four videos of the January 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black motorist who died after being beaten by five officers who were subsequently fired and charged with murder.
The footage was privately seen by Nichols’ family on Monday. Three of the videos are from body-worn cameras issued by the Memphis Police Department (MPD). Another is from a camera mounted on a pole and contains no audio.
Before the videos were released, MPD Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis warned that they show “acts that defy humanity.”
Nichols was pulled over by Memphis officers for alleged reckless driving that Davis has since said her department has been “unable to substantiate.” After three days in the hospital, he died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
“I am disturbed and disgusted by the sheer brutality and lack of humanity on display in the footage released today,” said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement Friday night. “No person should ever be subjected to such violence, to have to call for their mother as they are being brutalized by police.”
“This video is a stark reminder that in America, on any day of the week, a Black person can be brutally beaten to death less than a hundred feet from his home by those who are supposedly here to ‘serve and protect’ our communities,” he continued. “Let me be clear—a traffic stop should not result in the brutal death of an unarmed man—period.”
Turning his attention to federal lawmakers, Johnson added: “As you leave the halls of Congress today and return to your comfortable homes, take a moment to think about the pleas for mercy that Tyre cried as he begged for his mother, and ask yourself the question: What if this was your child? Your continued failure to act has left Tyre’s blood, and the blood of the countless Black lives claimed by police violence, on your hands. Get up and do something. We are done dying.”
As Common Dreams reported Thursday, former MPD cops Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and various other crimes.
In a series of tweets responding to the charges, ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said Friday, “Let’s be clear, while the mass movement of people demanding some level of accountability has succeeded in this one instance, convictions aren’t the goal.”
“WE WANT AN END TO POLICE MURDERS OF BLACK PEOPLE. So, this moment isn’t about Black vs. white, it’s about blue vs. Black. Diversity cannot and does not solve systemic problems,” he continued. “If we don’t change the structure of policing and safety in our country, Black people will continue to be killed, by police of all races. The evidence is clear—investing in communities will keep us safe, not the police.”
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Friday evening that “Tyre’s death is a bitter reminder of the Black lives that we’ve lost due to police brutality. Thirty years ago, we were horrified by the footage of police beating Rodney King. And yet, despite our decades of protest, we’re still fighting the same battle.”
“The only difference now is more of the horrific incidents are being captured on video, whether it be bodycams or bystanders,” he added. “Tinkering at the margins of a violent police state is not enough. It never was. This death must amount to more than just another viral moment or hashtag. It must spark a serious reconsideration and shifting of priorities, deployment, and resources.”
Before the footage was released, major cities across the United States were preparing for potential Friday evening protests.
According toThe Associated Press:
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company’s community offices and the University of Memphis.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Noting that “there’s been a lot of focus on the perceived threat of violence,”MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit Memphis newsroom, on Friday published a collection of stories and columns “to add context to this tragedy” for those who may be unfamiliar with “the antagonistic relationship police have cultivated with the community, dating back decades.”
The coalition Decarerate Memphis shared on Twitter demands from Nichols’ family and the community, including reforms to reduce the chances of similar future events.
The Movement for Black Lives tweeted advice on “how to limit viewing sensitive content” on social media platforms, for those who do not want to be traumatized by the footage.
“We grieve with Tyre’s family, friends, and the entire Memphis community,” the movement said in a statement. “Had those officers not pulled Tyre over, he would be here right now with his four-year-old son, taking photos of sunsets and skateboarding. Yet, even as we try to grieve and stand in solidarity with Tyre’s family, we know the police are ramping up to criminalize our actions—meeting our calls for justice and accountability with more state violence and suppression.”
Editor’s note: The videos below contain graphic and violent content.