Despicable ‘culture of policing’ led to Tyre Nichols’ murder

Memphis Police Department’s body camera videos show the extreme abuse Tyre Nichols suffered on Jan. 7. He died three days later.
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – JANUARY 27: Flanked by Rodney Wells (C) and Row Vaughn Wells, the stepfather and mother of Tyre Nichols, civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks next to a photo of Nichols during a press conference on January 27, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died three days after being severely beaten by five Memphis Police Department officers during a traffic stop on January 7, 2023. Memphis and cities across the country are bracing for potential unrest when the city releases video footage from the beating to the public later this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

UPDATE: The Memphis Police Department on Monday fired officer Preston Hemphill, who is white and used a taser on Tyre Nichols, and another unnamed officer have been fired, in addition to the five officers fired last week. The department said other charges are pending. Also, two EMTs and a lieutenant with the Memphis Fire Department have been fired for violating “numerous MFD policies and protocols” at the scene with Nichols, according to the fire chief. (1/30/2023)

I tried to prepare myself to watch the videos released on Friday of police in Memphis, Tennessee beating Tyre Nichols on the night of Jan. 7. I didn’t think another instance of police brutality captured on video could break me after watching George Floyd murdered on video on May 25, 2020, while in Minneapolis police custody.

Memphis police videos of the brutal beating of Nichols, 29, have sparked demonstrations in several cities across the country and renewed calls to defund, abolish or reform the police. I can’t recall the number of Black men I’ve watched brutalized by police on video over the years — one is too many. But I felt compelled to watch the Memphis police videos as a journalist and as a Black woman. For Black people, for Black men. For my husband and brother-in-law. For Nichols.

Since then, I am haunted by Nichols’ panicked-filled screams. Black police officers hunted and taunted Nichols like prey. The image of his battered body in the hospital is devastating. A police beating can happen to any Black man on any street. Whether the officers are white or Black, they appear to don their police gear and set out to uphold white supremacy. 

All five officers, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Jr, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean, have been fired, charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault and released on bond, according to NBC. The former officers will be arraigned together on Feb. 17, according NBC’s review of court records. The family’s lawyer Ben Crump tweeted Saturday the city had “permanently disbanded” the Scorpion unit, which was created to address violent crime and where the officers worked. 

“People want to say that these were Black officers on a Black man,” Martavius Jones, the Memphis City Council chairman said on CNN. “It’s the culture of policing that says that when you have a Black motorist, we can treat them any type of way.”

Law enforcement officials across the country have decried what happened in Memphis.

Even so, police continue to brutalize Black people and let city leaders settle lawsuits with the victims’ heirs, rather than treat Black people humanely and fairly.

And when Blacks prepare to protest after watching another soul-destroying video of gross police misconduct, even their rage is micromanaged with calls for peace before signs are thrust in the air and the chants begin.


Memphis Police Department Releases Videos

If you can’t watch the videos, it’s understandable. It’s traumatizing to see Nichols terrorized and his humanity ignored by so many police officers and medics.

The city issued the following WARNING on the videos: The video contains graphic content and language. Viewer discretion is advised. 

  • Video 1, police-issued, body camera video
  • Video 2, pole camera video (no audio) from a residential neighborhood
  • Video 3, police-issued body camera video from a residential neighborhood
  • Video 4, police-issued body camera video from a residential neighborhood


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