The death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, at the hands of police in Memphis, Tennessee, has triggered protests in the U.S. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in several states over the weekend to protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
On the evening of 7 January, Nichols was pulled over for suspected reckless driving. Memphis police said there was a short confrontation before he was dragged from the car and detained on the ground. A police recording shows Nichols saying “I didn’t do anything.” Shortly after, Nichols got up and began to run away. Police recaptured Nichols and began to punch, kick, and strike him with batons. They also appeared to spray him in the eyes with a chemical. The video shows the beating continuing after Nichols’ hands were restrained. At 8:41pm, medics arrived at the scene. At 9:02pm, an ambulance arrived.
According to Memphis Police, Nichols was admitted to the hospital in a “critical condition” after complaining of “shortness of breath”. According to members of his family, Nichols went into cardiac arrest during the incident and suffered a broken neck. On 10 January, three days after the incident, Nichols’ family said he died in the hospital of kidney failure and cardiac arrest. Memphis Police have since released 67 minutes of police bodycam and security footage that depicted Nichols’ arrest and assault.
On 20 January, the five officers involved were fired from the Memphis Police Force. On 26 January, they were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct, and oppression. All officers are aged between 24 and 32 and are all black. Some of the officers were part of a now-disbanded 50-person special unit called SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighbourhoods).
Politicians, community organisations, sporting teams, and citizens across the U.S. have been vocal in their condemnation of the police since the footage was released on Friday. In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death”. Protests have been held across the U.S, including in Memphis, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City.
Nichols’ family has created a GoFundMe in the wake of his death. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, described her son as “gentle, kind, and joyful”. She added: “He had never been in trouble with the law, not even a parking ticket. He was an honest man, a wonderful son, and kind to everyone. He was quirky and true to himself, and his loss will be felt nationally.” Wells said part of the money will go to building a memorial skate park,”in honour of his love for skating and sunsets”.