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Activists knock on the locked door of the Memphis Police Department's Ridgeway Station during a protest in honor of Tyre Nichols, on Jan. 29 in Memphis.Patrick Lantrip/The Associated Press

Before showing video of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols, MSNBC host Joy Reid acknowledged the risk that watching it could desensitize her audience. But it was necessary to show the footage, she contended, because it was rare to get such a clear look at police violence on camera.

“We’re going to show you this video because you pay for the police. The police work for the public,” Ms. Reid said. “It is violent, but it also is a depiction of the kind of police violence that normally happens outside your view.”

This introduction was one of the more thorough attempts by a U.S. media outlet to explain the near-universal decision to broadcast the video and post it online.

Unlike other police forces, which have often stonewalled efforts to get information on such incidents, the Memphis Police Department chose to make public more than an hour’s worth of footage, gleaned from officers’ body cameras and nearby CCTV. Releasing the video voluntarily gave police the ability to control its timing.

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The controlled release also gave media outlets more time to decide whether and how much of the video to disseminate. All of the United States’ major broadcasters and newspapers chose to show it in some fashion.

In stark contrast with other high-profile instances of police brutality, the Memphis police have moved swiftly to show accountability in the wake of Mr. Nichols’s death. In less than three weeks, the force fired five officers involved and charged them criminally. On the weekend, the unit to which they belonged was disbanded.

The footage shows officers dragging Mr. Nichols out of his car on the evening of Jan. 7, pepper-spraying him, tasing him, kicking him in the head, punching him in the face and hitting him with batons. He died in hospital three days later. Mr. Nichols was Black, as are the five officers accused of murdering him.

The Memphis police released the video footage on a Friday evening, when media outlets typically see their lowest readership and viewership figures.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told The Commercial Appeal, the city’s main newspaper, that police wanted to ensure that, if there were mass protests in response, they would occur after people had left work for the day.

“That was a law-enforcement preference on trying to get people home from school and home from work, and do it after rush hour when people were safely at home,” he said.

As it was, protests on the weekend were far more modest than those in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd – when Minneapolis police initially denied wrongdoing until bystander video showed otherwise – and remained mostly non-confrontational.

In photos: Protests over the death of Tyre Nichols erupt across the U.S. on Friday

In Mr. Nichols’s case, media outlets took differing approaches to disseminating the footage of his fatal beating.

CNN aired it live in its entirety, as it was released by the police. Later on, for its website, it edited the video down to its key moments, adding voiceover to explain the narrative of what was happening. The Washington Post synced the four videos up and posted them in full to provide as complete a picture as possible.

USA Today opted to post only the CCTV footage, which offered the broadest view of the scene but did not contain some of the most brutal close-ups of the beating. British newspaper The Guardian, which has a large presence in the U.S., opted for a heavily edited version that did not show the most violent moments.

All media included content advisories, though relatively few offered extensive explanations of the thinking behind sharing the video. One editor’s note, for the local NBC affiliate in Memphis, said it was necessary to put the footage out so viewers could judge for themselves what happened.

“Sharing this video will help our community understand and see the incidents from that evening,” the note read. “It’s the only way for you to see an unfiltered document of what transpired between Tyre and the five former Memphis police officers.”

Fox News, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction, with some of its personalities either downplaying the video’s significance or suggesting Mr. Nichols might have somehow been to blame.

“Does it bother you that you don’t have the cops’ perspective at all? I mean, it looks overwhelming, I get it. But don’t we need both sides?” Brian Kilmeade said. Jesse Watters speculated Mr. Nichols was “on something” during the arrest and opined that he “didn’t see any death blows” in the video.

Many Americans evinced discomfort with people so broadly viewing such footage. On social media, some chose to instead post video of a teenaged Mr. Nichols skateboarding in his hometown of Sacramento, calling for the 29-year-old, who worked as a FedEx driver and had a four-year-old son, to be remembered for the totality of his life.

“Before the Memphis Police Dept. releases the video of 5 MPD officers murdering #TyreNichols during a routine traffic stop, and that heinous video inevitably goes viral, I want to amplify THIS video of Tyre LIVING his best life,” writer Mai Perkins tweeted with the skateboard video.

Monnica T. Williams, an expert in mental-health disparities at the University of Ottawa, said people – particularly those who are marginalized or at a higher risk of falling victim to police violence – can become “very distressed or even traumatized” from watching these sorts of videos.

In Prof. Williams’s view, the videos should be made available to people who need to see them, such as those involved in the legal process, Mr. Nichols’s family and reporters covering the story, but they should not be broadcast in places people might see them without choosing to.

“One danger of putting videos like this out all the time is that people can sometimes become numb to the violence and just feel like it’s normal, and it shouldn’t be normal,” she said. “I don’t think they should be blasted all over social media and I don’t think people should be encouraged to watch them.”

Victoria Bridgland, a researcher at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, said limiting peoples’ exposure to traumatic materials “has to be balanced against the concern of spreading awareness about important social issues.” Her research has shown that there is little evidence trigger warnings are effective either at dissuading people from watching traumatic videos or preparing themselves emotionally for them.

“However, people often say they like trigger warnings because they like that they have a choice given to them (regardless of if they actually then choose to then avoid the distressing thing – which we know they likely do not),” she wrote in an e-mail. “People also say that they think trigger warnings communicate a culture of care.”

Mr. Nichols’s parents, for their part, used the police department’s management of the footage’s release to prepare the public ahead of time. Speaking with reporters before the video was made public, Mr. Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, called for demonstrations to remain non-violent.

“We want peaceful protests,” he said. “That’s what the family wants. That’s what the community wants.”