The pastor at the Memphis church where Tyre Nichols‘ family spoke from the pulpit urging peace after his brutal killing reiterated the call for calm Sunday following the release of video showing the fatal beating by police.
Cities nationwide have braced for protests after body-camera footage was released Friday showing Memphis officers beating the 29-year-old Mr. Nichols, who died of his injuries three days after the Jan. 7 attack. However, protests in Memphis, New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., have been scattered and non-violent.
“We’ve had calm so far, which is what we have been praying for,” Rev. Kenneth Thomas said before the service began at Mt. Olive Cathedral Church. “And, of course, we hope that continues.”
Father Thomas also offered a prayer for Nichols’s family, asking God to “shower them with your blessings.”
Tyre Nichols’s death provokes deep introspection of America’s racial and cultural crises
Later, more than a dozen sign-carrying protesters marched to a Memphis police station not far from the beating, pounding on the door and demanding to be let in. Getting no response, they made their way to a nearby gate, guarded by three officers.
Some protesters taunted the officers with vulgarity, and all chanted: “Quit your job!” But the protest remained peaceful.
The protesters then observed a three-minute silence, designed to match how long Nichols was beaten.
The loss is “still very emotional” for the family, a lawyer representing them said Sunday, but they are using all their energy to advocate for reforms both in Memphis and on the federal level.
“His mother is having problems sleeping, but she continues to pray with the understanding, as she believes in her heart, that Tyre was sent here for an assignment, and that there will be a greater good that comes from this tragedy,” attorney Ben Crump said on ABC’s This Week.
Mr. Crump welcomed disbanding the city’s “Scorpion” unit, which police director Cerelyn (CJ) Davis announced Saturday, citing a “cloud of dishonour” from the newly released video.
Chief Davis acted a day after the harrowing video was released, saying she listened to Mr. Nichols’s relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision. Her announcement came as the country and city struggled to come to grips with the violence of the officers, who, like Mr. Nichols, are Black. The video renewed outrage over repeated fatal encounters with law enforcement despite nationwide demands for change.
Mr. Crump told This Week that Mr. Nichols’s case points to a systemic problem in how people of colour are treated, regardless of whether officers are white, Black or any other race.
The “implicit, biased police” culture that exists in the United States is just as responsible for Mr. Nichols’s death as the five Black officers who killed him, Mr. Crump said.
“I believe it’s part of the institutionalized police culture that makes it somehow allowed that they can use this type of excessive force and brutality against people of colour,” Mr. Crump said. “It is not the race of the police officer that is the determinant factor whether they’re going to engage in excessive use of force, but it is the race of the citizen.”
He alleged other members of the Memphis community have been assaulted by the now-shuttered Scorpion unit, which was composed of about 30 officers whose stated aim was to target violent offenders in high-crime areas. The unit had been inactive since Mr. Nichols’s Jan. 7 arrest.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods.
The officers involved in Mr. Nichols’s beating – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Mr. Nichols’s death. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
Video showed the officers savagely beating Nichols, a FedEx worker, for three minutes while screaming profanities at him. Mr. Nichols called out for his mother before his limp body was propped against a squad car and the officers exchanged fist-bumps.
Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, told the Associated Press she was struck by the immediate aggression from officers as soon as they got out of the car.
“It just went to 100. … This was never a matter of de-escalation,” she said, adding, “The young man never had a chance.”
On a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden, Mr. Crump and Mr. Nichols’s parents discussed the need for federal reform like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would prohibit racial profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limit the transfer of military equipment to police departments, and make it easier to bring charges against offending officers.
Mr. Biden said he told Mr. Nichols’s mother he would be “making a case” to Congress to pass the Floyd Act “to get this under control.”
Memphis Police had already implemented reforms after Mr. Floyd’s killing, including a requirement to de-escalate or intervene if they saw others using excessive force.