The devastating video of Memphis police officers rehearsing their excuse for their deadly use of force even as Tyre Nichols’ lifeless body lay just steps away painted a horrifying, if not entirely clear, portrait of five cops who murdered a man for no apparent reason and then conspired to destroy his reputation.
The actions of Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith have left many convinced that policing in America cannot be reformed.
“One of the most devastating things to occur in this earthly existence is for one’s life to end in such a brutal and helpless way and to have the world watch, share, and analyze the video of you taking your last breath,” officials at the nonprofit The Black Girl’s Guide To Healing Emotional Wounds wrote in a statement.
They pleaded, “Please, my friends, don’t share it or watch it. Let’s keep the family in our prayers and work to identify solutions to this nonsense.”
On Friday, January 27, over an hour of footage was extracted from the officers’ body cameras and an overhead surveillance video that the men in blue were apparently unaware existed.
Each officer was arrested and terminated. They have been charged with second-degree murder, kidnapping, and other crimes in connection with Nichols’ death.
Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in a statement that two additional Shelby County sheriff’s deputies were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
A body camera worn by an officer revealed that Tyre was initially confronted on January 7 at 8:24 p.m. During what appeared to be a standard traffic stop, several officers approached with their weapons drawn.
Immediate hostility ensued, with one officer threatening Tyre, “You’re going to get your [expletive] blown off.”
Nichols is heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home. I’m not doing anything.”
He is then sprayed with pepper spray and repeatedly attacked.
One of the officers can be heard struggling to catch his breath while cursing Nichols due to the severity of the beating.
Nichols begins yelling for his mother in a manner eerily similar to that of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in 2020 in Minneapolis.
One of the officers, displaying no compassion, pulls out a baton and yells, “I’m going to baton the [bleep] out of you!”
As the young man struggles to regain his balance, the officer strikes Nichols multiple times with the baton, while other officers can be seen punching him in the face and head.
Officers eventually drag Nichols and toss him against a patrol car. More than 21 minutes pass before emergency medical personnel arrive, during which time the officers celebrate their victory by fist-bumping and laughing about their crime.
The release of the video sparked protests across the country, including in the District of Columbia, New York, Los Angeles, and Memphis, where the crime took place.
In addition to civil rights organizations, federal lawmakers flooded journalists’ email inboxes with statements condemning the officers.
As is their custom, lawmakers promised legislation to reform American policing. Similar promises were made after the murders of Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Eric Garner in New York, among numerous others.
In contrast, the Memphis officers were immediately fired and arrested, and the police unions did not offer them any support.
“What I witnessed in that video was horrific. It was a barbaric assault on another human being and is sickening,” Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police President Clyde Boatwright said.
“This does not represent policing or the men and women who wear a badge and dutifully protect their communities. I hesitate to even call these men police officers, because what I saw on that video is not policing. They deserve the strongest punishment allowed by Tennessee law.”
Boatwright added that in his state, “We have had historic police reform in our state over the last 5 years to ensure these types of actions don’t occur in Maryland. We will continue to be a partner with our communities as we work to protect those we serve.”
Patrick Gaspard, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, called driving while Black “one of the most dangerous acts in America.”
“As we all just witnessed in the searing video of the brutal slaughter of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police who are paid by us to protect all of us. The evidence here is startling and indisputable. These officers need to be tried, convicted, and imprisoned to satisfy justice and to send a message to police in all of our cities that this culture of violence in their ranks will no longer be sanctioned,” Gaspard stated.
President Joe Biden said he spoke with Nichols’ family and expressed his outrage.
“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death,” the president stated.
“It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day.