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Memphis police announced on Saturday the dismantling of the special unit involved in the fatal beating of Tire Nichols in early January. The publication on Friday of shocking images of the arrest of this young African-American by five black police officers aroused horror and incomprehension in the United States.
As the United States is in turmoil after the video of the fatal arrest of Tire Nichols was revealed on Friday, Memphis police announced on Saturday January 28 the dismantling of the special unit involved in the fatal beating in early January of the young African-American.
Police in Memphis, Tennessee said in a statement that “it is in everyone’s interest to permanently dismantle the SCORPION unit.” “The police officers currently assigned to the unit have given their consent,” the statement added.
The family of Tyre Nichols welcomed this decision via a statement from his lawyers, deeming it “both appropriate and proportionate to the tragic death of Tyre Nichols” but also “decent and fair for all the citizens of Memphis”.
The shocking images of the fatal arrest of Tire Nichols, 29, by five black police officers have caused shock in the United States, without yet causing the social explosion similar to that of the summer of 2020 feared by the authorities.
Since his death in early January, his family has repeatedly called for calm. And ahead of the early Friday evening release of the video, which was picked up live and uncut by major television stations, President Joe Biden called out his mother and stepfather and urged peaceful protests.
“Memphis has the opportunity to set the pattern for responding to such acts”
Rallies ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people were held Friday night in several cities, including Memphis, New York and Washington.
On Saturday afternoon, several dozen protesters gathered in the rain and cold outside Memphis City Hall, a towering concrete block building.
“Memphis has the opportunity to set the pattern for responding to such acts,” City Council member JB Smiley told the crowd, calling for police reform.
To the sounds of “no justice, no peace” and with signs demanding “justice for Tire Nichols”, protesters then marched through the otherwise quiet streets of Memphis.
Earlier, residents met in the street had expressed their indignation after the publication of the images of the arrest. Robert Jones, 26, a salesman at a downtown store, saw clips of the video. “It seems like it’s a new year, but things don’t change,” he said in reference to police violence.
“Institutionalized police culture”
The video released by the police shows an unbearable beating after a banal traffic stop on January 7 in Memphis. With punches, kicks, truncheons, the police go after the young man, spray him with tear gas and aim at him with a Taser electric shock gun. At no time do we see Tire Nichols retaliate. He tries to run away, is caught. “Mom. Mom. Mom!”, he shouts in one of the excerpts.
The five police officers involved in this case were dismissed, charged with murder and imprisoned. Four of them were later released on bail.
On Friday, while saying they were horrified, the family said they were “satisfied” with the charges brought against the five police officers and praised the “speed” of the measures taken against them.
“It could have been me” instead of Tyre Nichols, reacted after seeing the video Demarcus Carter, a 36-year-old African American living in Memphis, who expected the protests to be larger. But once a trial has taken place, “if the verdict is not the right one then the demonstrations will be bigger”, he predicted.
This new death after an arrest has reignited the debate on police violence in the country, where the memory of George Floyd, killed in 2020 by a white police officer, remains vivid, with the feeling that the major demonstrations that followed have nothing solved the problem.
Ben Crump, one of the lawyers for the family of Tire Nichols and who had defended the family of George Floyd, blamed an “institutionalized police culture”: “It doesn’t matter if the police officer is black, Hispanic or white (…) .There are unwritten rules that if a person is from a certain ethnic group, then they can be treated with excessive use of force,” he told MSNBC on Saturday.