Protests spurred by the police killing of Tyre Nichols erupted in Memphis, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and New York City on Friday night after the Memphis Police Department released footage of the nearly four-minute beating of the Black man.
As Memphis city officials announced their plan to release the footage amid mounting pressure Thursday, state and local officials across the country prepared for possible havoc. Attorneys for Nichols’ family compared his case to the 1991 police killing of Rodney King, which led to civil unrest in Los Angeles.
More than 200 protesters in Memphis took over the Interstate 55 bridge near downtown Memphis chanting the slain man’s name. More than 100 people flocked to Times Square, where tensions boiled over, leading to arrests as demonstrators bumped heads with police and jumped on patrol cars. The crowds in each city held signs demanding the end of “police terror.”
Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10 in Memphis, Tennessee, three days after being detained at a traffic stop by police. He was violently beaten by five Memphis police officers after he fled police on foot. The five police officers violently beat and pepper-sprayed Nichols before he complained of shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital, where he died three days later. A picture of him on life support before he died went viral on social media.
The officers violated multiple department policies, including “excessive use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid,” according to a statement from the Memphis Police Department.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith were all fired and charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault. They were also charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and official oppression on Jan. 26.
Officials said they expected nationwide protests following the release of the video. Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said the video of her son’s death is “horrific” and hoped people would honor her son by protesting peacefully upon viewing the bodycam footage. Wells also encouraged mothers not to allow their children to watch the disturbing video.
“When that tape comes out [Friday], it’s going to be horrific,” she said. “But I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
“And any of you who have children, please don’t let them see it,” she added. “I want to say to the five police officers that murdered my son, you also disgraced your own families when you did this. I’m going to pray for you and your families.”
President Biden also spoke with the family ahead of the video’s release. Biden also released a statement noting his outrage.
“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death,” he wrote. “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.”
New York Mayor Eric Adams told Politico that he had been in contact with several mayors nationwide and the White House in preparation for the anticipated protests. The mayor, a former law enforcement official, said that he felt “betrayed” by the officers and echoed Nichols’ mother’s wishes for peaceful protests and or the NYPD to “exercise restraint.”
“My message to New York is to respect the wishes of Mr. Nichols’ mother. If you need to express your anger and outrage, do so peacefully,” he said. “My message to the NYPD has been and will continue to be to exercise restraint.” As the protests began in New York, Grand Central Station was shut down.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland condemned the officers’ actions in his weekly letter to the community.
“Since learning of this tragic event, transparency and swift methodical action have been our top priorities because the family of Mr. Nichols and our citizens deserve nothing less,” he wrote. “The actions of these officers were awful, and no one, including law enforcement, is above the law. I assure you we will do everything we can to keep this type of heinous act from happening again.”
Businesses in Memphis were seen preparing for the protests by boarding up doors and windows. Shortly after protests begin in the city, I-55 had to shut down as the protesters headed to Main street.
The City of Los Angeles also released a statement in preparation for expected protests calling for unity and peaceful demonstrations” following the video’s release. Portland, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., took precautions.