MEMPHIS – The release of video footage of Memphis police officers beating, kicking and pepper-spraying 29-year-old Dyer Nichols, a black man, sparked a swift avalanche of calls from law enforcement officials, lawmakers from both parties and Black Lives Matter activists. And many others across the country.
Their message was often a combined expression of horror and disgust. The footage, released by city officials Friday evening, shows how what police initially depicted as a routine traffic stop on Jan. 7 led to Mr. Captured is an explosion of violent force on Nicholas.
Still, protesters in Memphis and across the country, Mr. For days, Nichols’ family and others pleaded for calm. Dozens of people marched in Memphis on Friday night and blocked a major bridge that spilled over an interstate highway, and the same number of people returned to the streets on Saturday, renewing their demands for justice.
Demonstrators gathered in Times Square in Washington, DC, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta and Manhattan. Authorities said minor acts of vandalism were committed during Friday night’s protest outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
“The video described all the horrible things to us,” said Josh Spigler, executive director of Just City, a civil rights organization in Memphis, law enforcement officials and Mr. Nichols warned the family of the contents for several days. of scenes.
City officials in Memphis decided to release the video soon after the incident, a step toward transparency. Four separate clips, from police body cameras and a surveillance camera mounted on a utility pole, were shared online, adding up to nearly an hour of footage.
On Thursday, five Memphis police officers arrested Mr. Prosecutors announced that Nichols has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death. Nearly a week earlier, the same officers — Tadarius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired from the Memphis Police Department after an internal investigation found they used excessive force and failed to intervene. Provide assistance as required by agency policy.
Lawyers for the authorities have urged the community to refrain from rushing to judgment. Mr. Blake Ballin, who represents Mills, said in a statement that the videos “have raised a number of questions.”
The Memphis Police Association, the union that represents officers, said in a written statement that the organization condemns “mistreatment of any citizen or abuse of power.”
“We have faith in the criminal justice system,” said Lt. Essica Gage-Rosario, president of the union. “It is in that hope that we will ensure that the full extent of the circumstances unfolds in the coming days, weeks and months.”
After the video was released, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said an investigation was pending after being concerned by what he saw that the two deputies who appeared in the footage were “delivered from duty.” Separately, the Memphis Fire Department said two of its employees were being investigated for their actions at the scene.
Mr. Nichols was stopped on the evening of January 7 on his way to the home he shared with his mother and stepfather in the southeast corner of Memphis. Mr. was pulled out of the car by the officers. Nichols can be heard saying in the video, “I’m trying to get home.”
Mr. Nichols fled on foot, and when officers caught up to him, he was kicked, hit with a baton and pepper-sprayed, at one point yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”
According to the video, the officers increased physical force and gave conflicting orders, Mr. Nichols was repeatedly demanded to show his hands, and while other officers held his hands behind his back, another punched him. Officers Mr. After pepper-spraying Nichols and beating him, he was left unattended on the floor and handcuffed.
An independent autopsy commissioned by his family, according to preliminary findings, said Mr. Nichols was found to have “bleed profusely from a severe blow”.
When police departments across the country responded, law enforcement officials said the actions shown in the video violated what officers are trained to do. “What I saw in that video was not right,” said Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Gerald Woodyard, the South Los Angeles commanding officer. “What goes through their minds, I have no idea.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Administration Research Forum and an expert on law enforcement practices, called the officers’ actions “the definition of excessive force.” Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and attorney who investigates the use of force, said the severity of what he saw in the video was disturbing. “I’ve never seen an individual hit on purpose,” he said.
As the country grapples with repeated high-profile cases of black men and women having deadly encounters with police, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Brona Taylor in Louisville, the video reflected something all too familiar.
“What I saw on that video last night shocked me, but I can’t say I haven’t seen it before,” Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP, said at a rally in Atlanta.
The video, like the individual officers in the footage, was seen by activists and others as an indictment of the country’s police culture. “It’s the norm at this point,” said Cory John, a teacher in Brooklyn. “Black men are being destroyed by the police, even by black police officers.”
While the demonstrations were going on on Saturday, Mr. Memphis police officials announced that they have disbanded the Scorpion Unit, a special task force that patrols high-crime areas of which the officers charged in Nichols’ death were a part.
Mr. While pleading with politicians and elected officials to change policies and create legislation after Nichols’ death, Mr. That was one of the main demands of Nichols’ family and city activists.
The conclusion of the Scorpion unit felt to some as if they had already made some progress.
“We feel a lot of deep pain, and to have a little change is helpful and reassuring,” said Rev. Micah, who is a lead organizer for a faith-based activist coalition in Memphis. Ayanna Watkins said. “But we’re not fazed by the fact that there’s a lot more work involved than just closing a unit.”
In Sacramento, Mr. Nichols grew up before moving to Memphis, where family members planned a candlelight vigil Monday, and local officials urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the video filled him with “anger, sadness and disgust,” while the city’s police chief, Kathy Lester, called the actions of Memphis officers “inhumane and inexcusable.” Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper said, “The brutal actions displayed by some of these officers do not reflect the values of this office or law enforcement as a whole.”
In Memphis, days before the video’s release, city officials, civic leaders and Mr. Nichols’ family pleaded with the community not to let the protests turn destructive. Mr. The relatively quick criminal charges, which Nichols’ family praised, may have helped prevent conflicts.
Even so, the anger and pain remained.
Many said they were surprised to see the video. “I can’t believe no one thought, ‘We don’t have to keep beating this man,'” said Nino Brown, an organizer of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Chicago. Nicholas said at a vigil.
Others, including Ms. John, a teacher in Brooklyn, decided not to watch it, saying the burden of seeing that kind of trauma outweighed any benefit of watching it.
“I don’t want to see it — I can’t,” she said. “It’s so heartbreaking. We’ve seen that video so many times before.
Reporting contributed Jesus Jimenez And Jessica Jaclois From Memphis; Robert Chiarito From Chicago; Shawn Hubler From Sacramento; Sean Keenan From Atlanta; Douglas Moreno From Los Angeles; And Blue Bohra, Hurubi Mego And Wesley Parnell From New York. Mike Ives Also contributed to reporting.