Memphis releases videos showing fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols
Body-camera footage showed police catching up with Nichols and kicking and punching him several times while pepper spraying him.
In an aerial view of the surveillance footage recorded Jan. 7, a group of police officers surround Nichols, 29, for about three minutes. Many times throughout the beating, during which officers used their hands, feet, batons and pepper spray on him, Nichols is heard crying out for his mom.
Nichols died three day later from injuries sustained in the attack. The officers were all fired from the department last week and have been charged with murder and other crimes related to Nichols’ death.
President Joe Biden on Friday said he was “outraged” and “deeply pained” after watching the video.
“It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day,” Biden said.
The president’s response came less than 30 minutes after the lengthy footage was publicized. As the video was met with a wave of outrage across the country, Biden again joined Nichols’ family in urging Americans to “not resort to” violence.
Protesters gathered in multiple cities, including Memphis, though reports of violence were few. Dozens of protesters in Washington, D.C., gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. At least three protesters were arrested in New York City amid a standoff with police in Times Square.
Earlier Friday, Justice Department and FBI leadership cautioned against violence in protest over the Memphis officers’ actions.
“Expressions of concern when people see this video, we urge that they be peaceful and nonviolent,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland at a DOJ press conference. “That’s what the family has urged, and that of course is what the Justice Department urges as well.”
Biden spoke with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ mother and stepfather, Friday afternoon. The president said he told them he would push Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which stalled out in 2021 after bipartisan negotiators couldn’t break through concerns about union involvement or qualified immunity.
After the bill failed, the president signed an executive order aimed at reforming police practices, but on Friday night, he acknowledged the shortcomings of his office.
“We should get this under control,” Biden said. “I can only do so much in an executive order at a federal level.”
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told CNN Friday morning that the video shows “acts that defy humanity” and “a disregard for life” — namely, the officers using what she said was a group-think mentality to exert an “unexplainable” amount of aggression toward Nichols. She added the video is “about the same if not worse” than the graphic video of Los Angeles police officers brutally attacking Rodney King in 1991.
“I was outraged. It was incomprehensible to me. It was unconscionable, and I felt that I needed to do something and do something quickly,” Davis said. “I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything of that nature in my entire career.”
Garland on Friday said though he hasn’t seen the video, he’s been briefed on its contents and called it “deeply disturbing” and “horrific.” FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was also at the briefing, said he was “appalled” by the video.
“I have seen the video myself, and I will tell you I was appalled,” Wray said. “I’m struggling to find a stronger word, but I will just tell you I was appalled.”
Wray added that all of the FBI’s field offices have been alerted to work closely with their state and local partners, particularly in Memphis, “in the event of something getting out of hand” during protests over the weekend. U.S. Capitol Police have beefed up security on the Hill — with bike-rack style security fencing erected overnight — as police departments across the country are also bracing for protests related to the footage.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way in this country to express being upset or angry about something, and we need to make sure that if there is that sentiment expressed here, it’s done in the right way,” Wray said.
The White House on Friday echoed the calls for peaceful protests ahead of the video’s release. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing that the White House has been “in coordination with the relevant agencies to ensure they prepare if protests become violent.”
“We understand the outrage people have currently, and how hurt and painful this is, but we are going to continue to say, violence, but violence is unacceptable,” Jean-Pierre said.
Many lawmakers took to Twitter, mourning the loss of Nichols and expressing that action needed to be taken.
“Although Senate action on policing reform has proven difficult, from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to more targeted reforms, I will never stop working to build a broad coalition to enact the changes that will make our nation safer, stronger, and more just,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said.
“We must support the efforts of local, state, and federal authorities as they continue their investigation into Mr. Nichols’ death. And elected officials must continue taking steps to create a justice system that is truly equal for all. I’m committed to working with Senator Booker and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finally achieve critical reforms,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “Tyre Nichols should still be here today. We must change the culture that perpetuates these tragedies and bring those accountable to justice.”
Rep Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said on Twitter that “police who break the law by brutalizing and murdering citizens endanger the social contract and become outlaws.”
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the “inhumanity” of the officers’ actions was “intolerable by anybody, but especially by people whose job and responsibility it was to protect him.”
“The video released shows abhorrent behavior and these officers must be held accountable for their deadly actions and clear abuse of power,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Julia Marsh and Shia Kapos contributed reporting.
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