Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic videos and descriptions of violence.
Protesters once again took to the streets over the weekend to decry police brutality after the release of video depicting the violent Memphis police beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, and more gatherings and vigils are planned for Sunday.
Nichols could be heard yelling for his mother in the video of the January 7 encounter, which begins with a traffic stop and goes on to show officers repeatedly beating the young Black man with batons, punching him and kicking him – including at one point while his hands are restrained behind his back.
He was left slumped to the ground in handcuffs, and 23 minutes passed before a stretcher arrived at the scene. Nichols was eventually hospitalized and died three days later.
“All of these officers failed their oath,” Nichols’ family attorney Ben Crump told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday. “They failed their oath to protect and serve. Look at that video: Was anybody trying to protect and serve Tyre Nichols?”
Demonstrators marched through New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, among other cities across the nation on Saturday, raising signs bearing Nichols’ name and calling for an end to abuses of authority.
“To see the events unfold how they’ve unfolded, with this Tyre Nichols situation, is heartbreaking. I have a son,” said Kiara Hill, standing at a makeshift memorial near the Memphis corner where Nichols was beaten. “And Tyre, out of the officers on the scene, he was the calmest.”
Since Nichols’ death, the backlash has been relatively swift. The five Memphis officers involved in the beating – who are also Black – were fired and charged with murder and kidnapping in Nichols’ death. The unit they were part of was disbanded, and state lawmakers representing the Memphis area began planning police reform bills.
Crump said that the quick firing and arrests of the police officers and release of video should be a “blueprint” for how police brutality allegations are handled going forward. He applauded Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis for arresting and charging the officers within 20 days.
“When you see police officers commit crimes against citizens, then we want you to act just as swiftly and show as the chief said, the community needs to see it, but we need to see it too when it’s White police officers,” Crump said.
Memphis police shut down SCORPION unit tied to deadly beating
The five former Memphis police officers involved in the arrest have been charged with second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, among other charges, according to the Shelby County district attorney.
The officers, identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills Jr., are expected to be arraigned February 17.
The attorney for one of the officers indicted, Mills Jr., put out a statement Friday night saying that he didn’t cross lines “that others crossed” during the confrontation.
All five officers were members of the now-scrapped SCORPION unit, Memphis police spokesperson Maj. Karen Rudolph told CNN on Saturday. The unit, launched in 2021, put officers into areas where police were tracking upticks in violent crime.
Memphis police announced Saturday that it will disband the unit, saying that “it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit.”
But disbanding the unit without giving officers new training would be “putting lipstick on a pig,” city council chair Martavius Jones told CNN Saturday.
City council member Patrice Robinson also told CNN disbanding the unit does not go far enough in addressing issues within the agency.
“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.”
The fallout from the deadly encounter also stretched to other agencies involved.
Two Memphis Fire Department employees who were part of Nichols’ initial care were relieved of duty, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. And two deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have been put on leave pending an investigation.