The city of Memphis, Tenn., is bracing for potential civil unrest with the release of video footage of the beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after a traffic stop earlier this month.
On Thursday, five former Memphis Police officers involved in the incident were charged with second-degree murder and other offenses. All five men, who are all Black, were fired from the department. Video footage is expected to be released publicly Friday.
Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving on Jan. 7, and he died three days later from wounds sustained during what the department initially called a “confrontation” with five officers on the scene. It later was revealed that Nichols was beaten for three minutes by police officers.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed video footage includes police body camera footage and possibly cellphone video and home video surveillance.
Audio of the dispatch recording was released on CNN on Thursday.
“We got one male. He’s running,” says one officer. Another says to run the license plates to find out the address of the owner.
Sounds of distress can be heard before the dispatcher says, “He’s fighting at this time.”
Concern over what could happen once the footage is released is, in part, in response to the civil unrest the country saw in 2020 after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police officers. While much of that unrest was peaceful protest, there was also widespread looting, burning of buildings and rioting.
“Burning down your own community will not solve this problem,” Van Turner, Memphis NAACP president, cautioned the community this week. “What will solve this problem is supporting this family, supporting the effort to bring these individuals to justice and supporting the effort to better train our officers and better train them to interact with this community appropriately going forward.”
In a video released Thursday, Memphis police Chief Cerelyn Davis called the beating “heinous, reckless and inhumane.” While she said she expects citizens to protest and demand action for results, she warned against any violence and community destruction.
“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results,” Davis said. “But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process. None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family of Nichols, said preliminary findings in their independent autopsy indicate Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”
So far, it is unclear how a traffic stop escalated into violence that left Nichols feeling short of breath and eventually dead, but video footage could help determine why officers reacted violently.
Attorney Antonio Romanucci, who is also representing the family, said the video shows Nichols being pepper-sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and restrained.
“He was a piñata to those police officers,” said Romanucci. “It was an unadulterated, unabashed nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes.”
Family members have already seen the video. Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, called the footage “horrific,” while his mother, RowVaughn Wells, was unable to watch the full video. Crump likened the footage to that of Rodney King, a Black man brutally beaten by Los Angeles police officers during a traffic stop in 1991 video.
Ahead of Friday’s video release, the NAACP has issued a call to action to Congress.
“By failing to write a piece of legislation, you’re writing another obituary,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement Thursday. “Tell us what you’re going to do to honor Tyre Nichols. Tell us what you’re going to do to show his family, his loving son, and this entire nation, that his life was not lost in vain. We can name all the victims of police violence, but we can’t name a single law you have passed to address it.”