There has been too much talk about this just being another black on black case, when in reality it’s another case of Blue vs Black again!
On January 7, 2023, five Black police officers from the Memphis Police Department severely beat 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black man, during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols was hospitalized in critical condition and died there three days later.
The officers stopped Nichols for alleged reckless driving, pulled him from his car, and used pepper spray and a taser on him. During the incident, Nichols managed to break away. When officers caught up with Nichols, they beat him for about three minutes, punching and kicking him in the head and striking him on the back with a baton while he was restrained. Released footage of the traffic stop showed Nichols never fought back against the officers. Nichols and the five officers were Black.
The five officers were fired on January 20, and on January 26 they were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, assault, and misconduct; two firefighters who were on the ambulance that took Nichols to the hospital were relieved of duty pending an investigation. On January 27, the Memphis Police Department released four clips of edited video showing events between 8:24 p.m. and 9:02 p.m. The preliminary results of an autopsy commissioned by his family’s attorneys found “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating”. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice both opened investigations.
The release of body camera and surveillance footage led to widespread protests in Memphis and across the United States.
Tyre Deandre Nichols (/ˈtaɪ.ri ˈnɪk.əlz/ TY-ree; June 5, 1993 – January 10, 2023), a 29-year-old Black man with a then-four-year-old son, was working for FedEx and was a photographer with his own website.
Nichols was raised in Sacramento, California, and moved to Memphis in 2020. According to his family’s attorney, Nichols had a slim build due to Crohn’s disease, weighing about 145 lb (66 kg) at a height of 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m).
The five Black police officers involved each had three to six years of experience. Some were members of the 30-person specialized hot spot policing unit known as SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods), a group of undercover officers assembled in October 2021 as a response team to deal with serious crimes. SCORPION officers drove unmarked cars and dressed in plainclothes, wearing bulletproof vests marked “POLICE”.
- Tadarrius Bean, age 24, was hired in August 2020
- Demetrius Haley, age 30, a former corrections officer, was hired in August 2020
- Emmitt Martin III, age 30, was hired in March 2018
- Desmond Mills Jr., age 32, a former jailer in Mississippi and Tennessee, was hired in March 2017
- Justin Smith, age 28, was hired in March 2018
Traffic stop and death
Nichols was two minutes away from his home when he was stopped at approximately 8:24 p.m. on January 7, 2023, near the intersection of East Raines Road and Ross Road. The Memphis Police Department initially stated on January 8 that the traffic stop of Nichols was due to reckless driving. On January 27, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis stated that her department reviewed footage, including from body cameras, to “determine what that probable cause was and we have not been able to substantiate that – … It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen, but there’s no proof.”
At the traffic stop, officers pulled Nichols out of his car as he said: “I didn’t do anything.” An officer shouted: “Get on the fuckin’ ground … I’m gonna tase your ass.” Officers pushed Nichols to the ground. At about 8:25 p.m., a struggle began between the officers and Nichols; they attempted to pin Nichols to the ground, threatened him, yelled expletives, and used pepper spray and a taser on him. The pepper spray also hit several of the other officers. Ultimately, Nichols broke free and ran south on Ross Road, where he was pursued by at least two officers. Two more police units arrived at the scene of the traffic stop around 8:29 p.m. Footage showed that one officer who remained at the area of the traffic stop said, “I hope they stomp his ass”.
The second encounter Nichols had with police occurred about a half a mile (800 meters) away from the traffic stop at 8:33 p.m. where he was beaten for about three minutes. Body camera footage showed an officer shouting to Nichols: “I’m going to baton the fuck out of you.” Footage from a pole-mounted surveillance camera at the corner of Bear Creek Cove and Castlegate Lane showed officers striking Nichols at least nine times (“without visible provocation”, according to a CNN analyst) and an officer using his leg to push Nichols hard to the ground. The officers pulled Nichols up by his shoulders and kicked him twice in the face, pulled him into a sitting position and struck his back with a baton, then brought him to a kneeling position and struck him again. After that, officers pulled Nichols to a standing position and restrained his hands; during this time, Nichols was repeatedly punched in the face by officers, and eventually he fell to a kneeling position. Within the next minute, Nichols was kicked by an officer. The footage shows at least five punches to Nichols’s face. The New York Times reported that Nichols repeatedly cried out for his mother and “[did] not appear to ever strike back” during the beating, during which he was given what they described as contradictory and impossible orders, including demands to give officers his hands while his one handcuffed arm was simultaneously being restrained by another officer.
By 8:37 p.m., Nichols was handcuffed and limp; officers propped him against the side of a police car. After Nichols was on the ground, one officer said: “I was hitting him with straight haymakers, dog”, while another said: “I jumped in, started rocking him.” Medics arrived around 8:41 p.m. but did not begin to assist Nichols until 16 minutes later. An ambulance arrived at 9:02 p.m. and took Nichols to St. Francis Hospital at 9:18 p.m. after he complained of shortness of breath. He died three days later on January 10; the preliminary results of an incomplete autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys reported “excessive bleeding caused by a severe beating”.
In the released videos from after the beating, two officers claim Nichols reached for their weapons. This claim is not substantiated by the videos, with one expert noting that neither did any officer seem to indicate they were threatened, nor did any of the officers communicate the alleged reaching to fellow officers during the stop.
Investigations and criminal charges
On January 7, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate allegations of excessive use of force during the arrest. On January 15, the Memphis Police Department announced the officers involved would face administrative action.The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also opened a civil rights investigation. On January 20, Memphis Police announced that the five officers would be fired.
On January 24, the five officers were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. As of January 27, all five men have posted bail and been released, according to Shelby County Jail records.
Before the release of the video on January 27, police chief Davis said probable cause for reckless driving by Nichols had not been substantiated.
By January 24, two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical technicians who were in the ambulance had been relieved of duty without further explanation. A week later, a total of three MFD employees had been fired – the two EMTs and a lieutenant – for failing to conduct a proper patient assessment and treatment, a break in policies and procedures.
On Monday, Jan. 30th, authorities announced that two other police officers, Preston Hemphill and an unidentified officer, had also been relieved of duty.
Nichols’ family retained attorneys Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci.
Main article: Tyre Nichols protests
Protest in Columbus, Ohio
On January 27, the police body-worn camera video footage of the incident was released to the public. Chief of police Davis stated that officials intentionally “decided it would be best to release the video later in the day after schools are dismissed and people are home from work” due to concern over the civil unrest that might result after its release.
Following the release of the video, protesters in Memphis blocked traffic on Interstate 55 By January 28, protests had also occurred in New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, and Newark.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with the Nichols family and joined in their call for peaceful protest. Biden also told the family that he would renew a push with Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to tackle police misconduct.
Various police officers released reacted to the death of Tyre Nichols. Police chief Davis released a video statement where she said, “This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual.” On January 27, in an appearance on Good Morning America, she said, “In my 36 years, […] I would have to say I don’t think I’ve ever been more horrified and disgusted, sad” about the video, and it was “still very unclear” as to why the officers stopped Nichols. New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, denounced what she called “disgraceful actions”, while Chicago Police Superintendent, David O. Brown, called the video “horrific”. On the day of the video’s release, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was appalled by the video, and Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, stated that “The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a retired captain from the NYPD, told the press that the White House had briefed him and other mayors on the video ahead of its release and that it would “trigger pain and sadness in many of us. It will make us angry.”
A moment of silence was held for Nichols before the NBA basketball game in Minneapolis at the Target Center on January 27 between the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Legal Aid Society of New York City released a statement that included, “We must continue to question the police’s role in society, as these incidents frequently recur, and many more happen all the time without being captured on body-worn cameras.” On January 29, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said, “We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional and humane way. These men and women with badges put them on each day and risk their lives for us. I know that, but we also see from these videos horrible conduct by these same officers in unacceptable situations.”
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation issued a statement that stated, “Although the media has spent a great amount of time drawing attention to the fact that the police officers are Black, as if that is important, let us be clear: ALL police represent the interest of capitalism and impel state-sanctioned violence. Anyone who works within a system that perpetuates state-sanctioned violence is complicit in upholding white supremacy.”
After Nichols’s death, Chief Davis called for a review of the SCORPION unit, and the unit was disbanded on January 28.
A GoFundMe fundraiser was created by family members of Nichols that states “We want to build a memorial skate park for Tyre, in honor of his love for skating and sunsets”. By January 29, the GoFundMe raised nearly US$1 million.