Protesters Call for Police Reform Across the U.S. After the Release of Tyre Nichols Videos
Demonstrators block traffic on Interstate 55 while protesting the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, on on January 27, 2023. Credit - Scott Olson—Getty Images
After body camera and surveillance footage of the violent traffic stop that led to the death of Tyre Nichols was released Friday, in which 29-year-old was restrained, battered, tased and pepper-sprayed by Memphis police, protests quickly swept Memphis, Atlanta, New York and other parts of the country, demanding justice for Nichols and calling for serious police reform. The protests are expected to continue throughout the weekend.
On Friday evening, protesters marched to Interstate 55 in downtown Memphis where they shut down the highway that connects Tennessee and Arkansas. Protests also took off around Martyrs Park in Memphis, Tennessee. More than a hundred protesters marched, chanting “we ready, we ready, we ready for y’all,” and asked to speak with the city’s mayor and chief of police, according to local news outlet, Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In Atlanta, Georgia, protesters gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. The city is still reeling from intense protests last week over the police shooting of local activist Manuel Esteban Paez Teran. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency this week, allowing him to call 1,000 National Guard troops.
In California, about a hundred protesters gathered outside of a Los Angeles Police Department, where they were met with police officers in riot gear, according to the Los Angeles Times. Protesters were also calling for justice for 31-year-old Keenan Anderson, who died in LAPD custody in early January after he was repeatedly tased by police.
Protestors also tore down metal barriers that the department had put up, the paper reported. Protests also took place in San Francisco and, and Portland, Oregon.
In New York City, where more than 200 people gathered near Times Square, at least three protestors have been arrested, one of whom jumped atop an NYPD vehicle and smashed the windshield, according to NBC. In Washington, D.C., protesters also gathered outside The White House. Apart from isolated incidents, the protests have been primarily peaceful, but with heavy police presence, poised and ready to intervene.
Protests are likely to continue throughout the weekend in Memphis and Atlanta. Several other major cities planned organized gatherings too, including Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Detroit and Washington, D.C., among others.
Before the release of the video and protests began, Nichols’ family asked protesters to stay peaceful. The family also praised law enforcement for acting swiftly to fire and charge the officers allegedly involved in Nichols’ death.
“When that tape comes out, it’s going to be horrific,” Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells said earlier this week, according to the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
On Thursday, Five Memphis police officers were charged with second-degree murder, as well as other misconduct and assault charges. All five officers are Black—as was Nichols—but Nichols’ family and activists say that the big issue here is racial inequality in traffic stop procedures.
Nichols was pulled over and arrested for reckless driving two minutes away from his home, according to his mother, but the arrest quickly escalated, with seemingly 10-12 officers in total at the scene, many watching from the side as Nichols was battered by officers. Nichols eventually got medical attention that night after complaining that he was short of breath, and as an investigation into the use of officers’ force ensued. Nichols died three days later.
The city has a history of police brutality and activism that follows. The 2015 killing of teenager Darrius Stewart, also at a traffic stop by a Memphis officer, shed some light on the system’s flaws and after months of protester demands, Memphis police began wearing body cameras, like the ones that captured Nichols’ assault.
Today, protesters are demanding even more, such as the dissolution of the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) unit, that pulled Nichols over. Critics say that SCORPION has not reduced crime in the city, and predominantly patrols low-income areas.
“This is not the first time that we saw police officers committing and engaging in excessive brutal force against Black people in America who are unarmed, but yet we have never seen swift justice like this,” Nichols’ family’s attorney Ben Crump said Friday at a press gathering.