United States: wave of protests after the fatal beating of Tire Nichols

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The Americans had been warned, the broadcast this Friday of the video of the fatal beating of Tire Nichols, perpetrated on January 7 by police in Memphis, Tennessee, was going to shock them. But the unheard-of violence in the footage, captured by the police officers’ own body cameras and neighborhood surveillance cameras, has sparked huge outrage across the country. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis reacted with a speed that surprised here.

The 5 officers involved, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith were all fired and later charged with second degree murder and aggravated assault, among other charges. They were arrested and then released on bail. As for the Scorpion unit to which they belonged, an acronym in English for “operation to fight street crime to restore peace in our neighborhoods”, it will probably be dissolved.

VIDEO. United States: 5 police officers charged with murder after the fatal arrest of Tire Nichols

As of Friday evening, many angry and protest rallies took place in the country. In Memphis, the city where, as Americans remember, Pastor Martin Luther King was assassinated 55 years ago next April, the demonstrators had simply blocked access to a bridge over the Mississippi. President Biden said he was “deeply shocked” by this “horrific video”. He called for calm, and Nichols’ family asked for peaceful protests. Their appeals have been heard, for now anyway.

The facts date back to the evening of January 7 when five police officers from the Scorpion anti-criminal unit arrested Nichols, 29, during a banal traffic check in Memphis. Nichols is black, the police too. We still do not know what they blame the young driver, who returns from his job at Fedex. It is then 8:21 p.m. Footage shows one of the officers violently dragging Nichols out of his seat, insulting him as he simply protests, “I didn’t do anything.”

“I’m just trying to get home”

He is thrown to the ground, and struggles under the blows of the police who want to keep him on the ground. “OK, I’m on the ground, you can see, argues Nichols calmly, I’m just trying to get home”… The video then shows one of the policemen firing a Taser into his leg. Nichols jumps up and runs home, chased by two police officers quickly, joined by another patrol. It’s 8:29 p.m.

Four minutes later, the video shows Nichols on the ground again, nearly 600m from where he was arrested and less than a hundred meters from the house where he lives with his mother and stepfather. The police harassed him for more than two minutes, with truncheons, kicks in the head, throwing pepper in the eyes. We hear her shout “Mom” three times, one of the most heartbreaking moments of the video…

At 8:37 p.m., Nichols is on the ground, motionless. A policeman sits him against a police vehicle but he is unconscious and slides back to the ground. An ambulance arrives… The two nurses are in no hurry, they look at the victim, chat with the police while smoking a cigarette and will not examine him until a quarter of an hour later… He will be transported to Saint Francis Hospital in 9:18 p.m. He died there three days later.

“Hemorrhage caused by violent blows”…

“When I arrived at the hospital with my husband and saw my son, he was already dead,” RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, told CNN with tears. They had reduced him to a pulp, he had bruises everywhere and his head was swollen like a watermelon”. An autopsy requested by the family will conclude without surprise that the death is due to a “hemorrhage caused by violent blows”…

The death of Nichols is of course reminiscent of that of George Floyd, this black American killed in May 2020 in Minneapolis by a white police officer. The country, then in the midst of a pandemic, had been set ablaze by the demonstrations of Black Lives Matter, this movement against racism and police violence which would sweep over a large part of the world. But as Neill Franklin, a Baltimore police officer, said on Friday, “This violence has prevailed across the country for more than 100 years. Eradicating this culture of excessive police force will take just as long.”

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