Authorities across the US are braced for protests ahead of the release of video footage showing the events leading to the death of black motorist Tyre Nichols at the hands of police in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this month.
On January 7th, five police officers attempted to arrest Mr Nichols after pulling him over while driving just before 8.30pm. The incident escalated into a physical altercation that resulted in Mr Nichols’s hospitalisation, state investigators said. He died three days later.
The five officers involved, who were fired following Mr Nichols’s death, were indicted by a grand jury in Memphis’s Shelby County on Thursday for second-degree murder, among other charges relating to the killing.
“They beat my son to death,” Mr Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN.
“People don’t know what those five police officers did to our family. And they really don’t know what they did to their own families. They have put their own families in harm’s way,” she said.
“They have brought shame to their own families. They brought shame to the black community. I just feel sorry for them. I really do. Because they didn’t have to do this.”
Footage of the incident is expected to be released publicly on Friday evening, and demonstrations are expected in cities throughout the US in response.
“In a word, it’s appalling,” said David Ranch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, of the footage of the assault. “Let me be clear: what happened here does not, at all, reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was a crime.”
US attorney general Merrick Garland told reporters on Friday he had been briefed on the video, calling it “deeply disturbing ... horrific, from the descriptions I’ve been given”. Mr Garland urged the public to be “peaceful and nonviolent” upon the release of the footage.
FBI director Christopher Wray said all FBI field offices had been told to “work closely” with partners, particularly in Memphis, “in the event of something getting out of hand”.
US president Joe Biden said in a statement on Friday that he joined “Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest. Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable.”
For Memphis, a majority-black city of 630,000, the incident has revived memories of the infamous assault of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991. It is also one of the most high-profile police killings in the US since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others triggered nationwide protests three years ago.
On Thursday, the five now-former Memphis police officers involved in Mr Nichols’s arrest, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr, and Justin Smith, who are all black, were charged on seven counts: second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two forms of aggravated kidnapping, two forms of official misconduct, and official oppression.
Bail was set for each at between $250,000 (€230,000) and $350,000.
Memphis police department chief Cerelyn Davis said in a video statement that “this incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane” and that the public would see this for themselves when the video is released.
“I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights,” she said.
Mr Nichols’s death is being investigated by city, state, and federal officials, while the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023