US on edge ahead of fatal police beating video release

Published January 28, 2023
Protesters rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, at Times Square in New York City, on January 27, 2023. — Reiters
Protesters rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, at Times Square in New York City, on January 27, 2023. — Reiters
MEMPHIS: People attend a vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police on Jan 7, at the Tobey Skate Park on Friday. —AFP
MEMPHIS: People attend a vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police on Jan 7, at the Tobey Skate Park on Friday. —AFP

WASHINGTON: The southern US city of Memphis braced itself for unrest on Friday as authorities prepared to release a body-camera video depicting the fatal assault of a Black man by five police officers who, the victim’s mother said, “beat him to a pulp”.

In a Tennessee grand jury indictment returned on Thursday, the five officers, all Black, were each charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old father.

Nichols succumbed to injuries he sustained from his encounter with police and died while hospitalised on Jan 10, three days after he was pulled over while driving.

“They had beat him to a pulp,” Nicholas’s mother RowVaughn Wells told CNN. “He had bruises all over. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was bursting because of the swelling.”

“I knew my son was gone, even if he did live he would have been a vegetable,” Wells said, sobbing.

Memphis Fire Department says it’s reviewing footage of assault on 29-year-old by five cops after traffic stop on Jan 7

Memphis police chief CJ Davis said the video, which will be released after 0000 GMT Saturday (5am in Pakistan), shows Nicholas crying out for his mother.

“What I saw on this video was more of a groupthink sort of mentality. And no one took a step to intercept or intervene,” Davis said on CNN. “And that’s why the charges are as severe as they are.”

In a statement issued late at night, the Memphis Fire Department said it had only received the footage on Friday would be concluding their internal investigation early next week after reviewing the video.

Police have been highly opaque about the circumstances of the arrest. Even Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who sought the indictment, described the incident in vague terms when announcing the charges.

After Nichols was pulled over, “an altercation” ensued in which officers doused him with pepper spray, and Nichols tried to flee on foot, Mulroy said. “There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr Nichols.”

Police brutality

Nichols’s death at the hands of police also recalled 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 protests nationwide, sometimes violent, and leading to scrutiny of race relations and police brutality in the United States.

President Joe Biden, anticipating outrage at the Memphis video’s rel­ease later Thursday, called for calm.

“As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” the president said in a statement.

The police officers were taken into custody after an internal investigation 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 of aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.

Four of the five were released from jail after posting bail, US media reported on Friday, citing jail records.

‘Where was humanity?’

“People don’t know what those black police officers did to our family,” RowVaughn Wells, the victim’s mother, said. “And they really don’t know what they did to their own families. They put their own families in harm’s way. They have brought shame to their own families. They brought shame to the black community.”

“Once you see this video, and I know I didn’t see it but from what I hear it is horrific. Where was the humanity? They beat my son like a pinata,” she said referring to a container that children at parties hit to release candy. “They beat my son to death.”

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2023

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