US protests begin after police release footage of fatal beating of Tyre Nichols

Demonstrations quickly began on Friday evening as Memphis police released footage of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.

Related: Tyre Nichols video worse than Rodney King footage, Memphis police chief says

The video released on Friday showed Memphis officers kicking Nichols repeatedly in the head, punching him in the face, and hitting him with a baton. It also showed officers and medical personnel failing to intervene as Nichols could not sit upright after the assault.

In Memphis, demonstrators began marching shortly after the video was released, taking over a bridge connecting Tennessee and Arkansas.

Protesters also gathered in Atlanta and New York City, where there appeared to be some arrests.

Activists have planned demonstrations in Memphis and at least seven other major American cities: New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Portland.

Nichols’s family, as well as US officials, have urged protesters to remain peaceful. “When that tape comes out [Friday], it’s going to be horrific,” Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying. “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.”

In a statement released shortly after the videos were made public, Joe Biden said: “I join Mr Nichols’s family in calling for peaceful protest.” The White House also met with mayors of several of America’s largest cities on Friday to prepare for protests.

The five police officers – all of whom are Black – who beat Nichols during the traffic stop have been fired and charged with murder and other offenses.

Local officials across the US are preparing for mass demonstrations. In Memphis, where the deadly encounter between Nichols and police unfolded, schools cancelled after-school activities for Friday and events scheduled on Saturday, while some area businesses were expected to close earlier.

Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, has declared a state of emergency on Thursday in advance of the release of this video. Kemp’s declaration comes in the wake of protests in Atlanta on 21 January over the death of activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was killed at a police training centre, NPR reported.

People take part in an evening protest holding signs reading ‘End police terror’ with the White House lit up in the background.
Demonstrators protest near the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Washington DC police officials also said they are preparing for demonstrations. While the Metropolitan police department “respects the community’s first amendment right to demonstrate and peacefully protest”, officials said in a statement to WTOP, “we will not tolerate any unlawful behavior during first amendment demonstrations, and we will take swift law enforcement action should anyone break the law”.

The expected demonstrations over Nichols’s death come more than two years after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis spurred worldwide mass protests. Police departments across the US drew extensive scrutiny over their handling of often peaceful protesters.

Some US police punched, kicked, teargassed, pepper-sprayed and drove vehicles toward protesters. Thousands of US protest participants found themselves jailed and many were injured, with some sustaining life-threatening injuries.