Thirty-two years after the videotape of the vicious beating of Rodney King by nightstick wielding police officers in Los Angeles, the incident involving Tyre Nichols has reignited the issue of police brutality against Black people.
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died after Memphis police officers punched, kicked and pepper sprayed him following a traffic stop on January 7.
He was unarmed and was not resisting the five African American officers he encountered.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith have all been fired and charged with murder, as of last week.
Three EMTs who responded to the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols were fired Monday (Jan. 30) after an internal investigation, the Memphis Fire Department said. Robert Long, JaMichael Sandridge and Lt. Michelle Whitaker were found to have violated multiple department policies and protocols in their patient response to Nichols on Jan. 7, the fire department said in a statement.
Further, along with the five officers charged with the brutal beating of Nichols, Memphis Police Department (MPD) announced on Monday that Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, had been relieved of his duties shortly after Nichols’ January 7 arrest. A seventh officer has also been relieved—but that officer was not named and the role played in the incident was not specified.
Peaceful protests around the country have taken place, including Hampton Roads in response to the video of Nichols’ encounter with the police.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday before the videos were released: “I’m still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this,” Wells said. “I don’t have my baby. I’ll never have my baby again.”
Former Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone, the Law Enforcement Analyst for News Channel 3, said along with those currently identified, up to 12 “officers may be terminated.”
“De-escalation was not part of the narrative” from what he saw in the video released to the public, he said.
Boone said “to his credit Nichols tried to de-escalate the situation… asking them what did he do. At one point you can see fear in his face and then he takes off.”
The inability of any of the officers to stop or lend assistance to Nichols was “highly unprofessional…they come off as thugs,” Boone said.
Created in 2021, some of the officers were part of the SCORPION unit— “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods”.
It was formed to respond to the rising property and violent crime in the city and now has been disbanded.
The New York Times and other news agencies analyzed the video based on footage from police body cams and street cameras mounted on a pole where the beating took place.
The video reveals the officers directed a barrage of commands at Nichols that were confusing, conflicting, sometimes simultaneous, and impossible to obey. When Nichols could not comply — and even when he managed to — the officers responded with escalating force.
The Times’ analysis of the available footage found that officers shouted at least 71 commands during the approximately 13-minute period before they reported over the radio that Nichols was officially in custody.
The commands were issued at two locations, one near Nichols’s vehicle and the other in the area he had fled to and was severely beaten.
Officers commanded Nichols to show his hands even as they were holding them.
They told him to get on the ground even when he was.
They ordered him to reposition himself even when they had control of his body.
Experts say the actions of the officers were an example of a longstanding problem of officers physically punishing civilians for perceived disrespect or disobedience called “contempt of cop.”
The available footage does not show any sign that any of the officers at the final scene—which numbered 10 or more—intervened to stop the aggressive use of force. If anything, it shows the contrary.
At one point, footage captured an officer saying “I hope they stomp his ass”.
The images, captured on the evening of January 7, just blocks from his mother’s home, include the initial traffic stop.
Police officers come up to Nichols’s car yelling with their guns raised, open his car door, and pull him out.
Nichols says that he “didn’t do anything.”
Nichols drops to the ground, and officers surround him. Initially, he offers no resistance, is pepper sprayed, and an officer fires a Taser at him as he gets up and runs.
Eight minutes later, he has been pursued into a neighborhood, close to his home where officers begin to beat him in the head when he is on the ground, and pull him back up as another officer uses an extendable baton to hit him.
Nichols does not appear to fight back which ends with him falling to the ground. More officers arrive but he is not seen receiving medical attention for several minutes.
Not only were the police officers fired, a sixth suspended, EMT personnel who treated him were suspended as the investigation into their actions is undertaken.
Ten minutes into the pole-camera video – a few minutes after officers disengaged – a person who appears to be a paramedic engages Nichols for the first time, around 8:41 p.m. But responders would repeatedly walk away from Nichols before an ambulance arrives.
Two minutes after paramedics started attending to Nichols, he is seen falling over to the side and seeming to hit his head hard. No one appears to help Nichols as he tries to sit up, only to fall over again.
Officers are seen crowding around Nichols, only to step away as he again falls onto his side.
First responders then spend nearly five minutes standing over Nichols, and occasionally shining a light toward his face, before walking away.
Nichols twists on the ground, “unassisted.” Medical equipment is finally brought back to Nichols’ side about three minutes later, the pole-camera video shows.
Footage shows that 21 minutes pass from when paramedics first appeared to arrive to when an ambulance finally pulls into view of the camera at 9:02 p.m.
Virginia 3rd District Congressman Robert Scott said in a statement, “As people across the country protest the violent arrest of Nichols, demonstrators are also calling on lawmakers to do more to reform policing.
Scott said he is asking Congressional Republicans to work with Democrats to pass “critical” police reform legislation.
“This is the latest in a lengthy and disturbing list of incidents of police brutality and we cannot let this kind of behavior continue to go unanswered,” Scott said.
Scott said he voted twice for the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and is asking Congressional Republicans to “stop blocking” the legislation.
“There is a continuing drumbeat of these kinds of cases and everybody says: ‘Well, something has to be done!’ Well, we need to just do something,” Scott said. “We need to make sure that bill gets revived so these incidences don’t happen again.”
“There are a lot of things it does,” Scott said. “First of all, making sure they get the appropriate training, and funding for training – particularly on implicit bias, and profiling.”
Scott said the legislation would lead to “real police accountability” and safer communities.
Former Policeman Rick James, who was in law enforcement for 27 years, lectures Norfolk Police trainees on the conditional rights of citizens and how they should be addressed when they are encountered.
“If there is one word to describe this situation it is ‘disappointment’,” James said. “This has set community-police relations back ten years. I am glad that the police chief’s response to fire the officers was swift and she released the video…which would have taken a year before.”
“They have all of the evidence before them,” he said. “As a Black police officer, it is hard…hard because we should have a better cultural understanding and empathy.”
He noted that there the officers in Memphis should have been better supervised by someone on the scene who could have told their colleagues “To stop.”
“It was far more rampant in the ’80s when I started doing police work than it was in the ’90s or 2000s,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina.
To mitigate the potential for escalation and confusion during police encounters, today’s police training typically calls for a single officer at the scene to issue clear and specific commands.
“They don’t even have to go back decades,” said state Delegate Angelia Williams Graves. “Just go back a few years to see what has happened to Black folks at the hands of law enforcement in the last few years.”
Graves said fellow Democrats in the state House and Senate have called for better training, support, and stiffer penalties for law enforcement officers.
Before the GOP took over the House of Delegates, legislation was passed that ended “pretextual traffic stops” for violations such as no light illuminating a license plate, defective and unsafe equipment, no brake lights or a high mount stop light, or objects hanging from the rear-view mirror.
Now that the GOP controls the House, she said they are working on abolishing that law. But she said it “will die in the State Senate.”