Washington: It seems at first like a garden-variety arrest for a traffic violation. But police videos released Friday of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols end with Memphis police officers kick-stomping and kneeling on the Black 29-year-old as he weakens from beatings.
Bodycam footage shows Nichols on the ground, plaintively calling out three times: “Mom!” as the officers aim punches and kicks at his face. He died in hospital on January 10, three days later.
The longest of the four videos was from an overhead camera on a power pole in the southern US city. It lasts 31 minutes and has no sound.
Two minutes in, police officers are seen manhandling Nichols on the ground. As one kneels on his torso, another officer kicks him repeatedly.
Officers are seen aiming several kicks at Nichols’ face. After repeated blows, the officers lift Nichols to a standing position, propping him up while pounding him with their fists until he falls to the asphalt — when they aim two more kicks at his face.
He lies face down on the ground. An officer pulls him over to a cruiser and puts him in a sitting position.
Minutes pass with Nichols in clear agony. At least six officers mill about. One shines a flashlight on Nichols although the scene is fairly well illuminated by street lights.
In one extended section, Nichols’ slumped body is propped sitting on the ground against a police car, his head lolling onto his chest and legs in front of him. His upper half repeatedly collapses to the ground — only to be propped up again by the police in attendance.
More officers show up. They mill, circling the scene, waiting for emergency medical technicians to show up.
There is no clear moment when it becomes apparent that the blows against Nichols would end up costing him his life.
The other three videos released by the Memphis Police Department are all from officers’ chest cameras and offer different perspectives.
In one, officers catch Nichols after a foot chase. Several officers are exhausted.
Nichols is pinned on the ground. “I didn’t do anything,” Nichols gasps. “You don’t do that, okay?”
“Get on the ground!” one officer commands.
In another dramatic video, officers have fired a Taser at Nichols but he has run away. Police catch up with him, yelling expletives.
One officer pepper sprays Nichols, subduing him.
A fourth video contains scenes of officers who remained behind after Nichols’ escape.
One officer speaks by radio to a police dispatcher: “Young black male, slim build, blue jeans and a hoodie.”
Officers give each other water from a water bottle. One is bent over in exhaustion, hands on his knees. Another appears to reel the wire from the Taser fired at Nichols back on to its spool.
“I got to find my glasses,” an officer says, breathing heavily. The footage later shows him picking up his glasses from the roadway where they’d fallen.
Addressing an emotional press conference earlier Friday, the victim’s mother RowVaughn Wells called out the officers who she said beat her son “to a pulp,” telling them: “You disgraced your own families when you did this.”
President Joe Biden, who has joined local officials in calling for protests to remain peaceful, spoke with Wells Friday to offer his condolences and commend “the family’s courage and strength.
The man’s mother was “obviously in enormous pain,” Biden said, adding that she had “made a very strong plea” for peaceful protests.
The father of a four-year-old son, Nichols worked for FedEx, loved skateboarding and taking photos, and had a tattoo of his mother’s name on his arm.
“My heart just breaks,” Wells told the news conference. “For a mother to know that their child was calling them in their need, and I wasn’t there for him.”
“My son was a beautiful soul,” Wells said. “He was a good boy. No one’s perfect. But he was damn near it.”
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis compared the video to footage of the 1991 Rodney King beating, which sparked days of riots in Los Angeles that left dozens dead.
“I was in law enforcement during the Rodney King incident, it’s very much aligned with that same type of behavior,” Davis said. “I would say it’s about the same, if not worse.”
– Police brutality –
Nichols’s mother has accused police of initially trying to cover up her son’s beating, coming to her door to say he had been arrested for drunk driving and pepper-sprayed and tasered after being difficult to handcuff.
The young man’s death drew immediate comparisons with the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, another Black man whose suffocation by a white police officer in Minneapolis was caught on film.
Video of Floyd’s death spread rapidly, sparking a massive wave of at times violent protests nationwide and beyond, and reviving scrutiny of race relations and a culture of police brutality in the United States.
Police officer Derek Chauvin was consequently convicted of murder, in what was seen as a landmark case after he knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes.
At a Memphis skate park where Nichols was a local, flowers and candles were laid out beside signs demanding “Justice for Tyre.”
Robert Walters, a 67-year-old blues musician visiting the city from Virginia, said he and his wife would return home early to avoid any violence.
“I’m a Black man living in America. And that fear is always something that me and my son, we grew up with and we live with,” he told AFP, in reference to police brutality.
The officers involved in Nichols’s fatal beating were taken into custody following a rapid internal investigation that found them to have deployed excessive use of force and to have failed to render aid.
In addition to second-degree murder charges, the officers are also facing indictments for aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.
Four of the five were released from jail after posting bail, US media reported Friday, citing jail records.
The fact the officers were themselves Black “hurts,” Walters said.
“These guys, you’d think, of anybody, should know (better), but it just goes to show you that anybody can fall into that trap,” he said.
“I just want people to just be calm and not do anything stupid, not destroy or hurt.”