The death of a black man after a traffic stop has legal consequences for the five ex-cops involved. Photo: Mark Weber/Daily Memphian/AP/dpa
The officers who have since been released – also blacks – are accused of murder, serious bodily harm and kidnapping. “They killed my son,” said the mother of 29-year-old Tire Nichols on Friday on US television, tearfully. US President Joe Biden called for demonstrations to remain peaceful. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable.”
The 29-year-old was stopped by the police in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 7 for “reckless driving”. According to a family lawyer, he was then beaten up by the police for minutes. Three days later, Nichols died in hospital. The police officers had different roles in the man’s death, said District Attorney Steve Mulroy. “But you are all responsible for it.” Video footage of the incident was to be released on Friday evening (local time) – protests were expected.
The police had said that there was a “confrontation” after the 29-year-old was stopped. He then fled on foot. There was another “confrontation”. Memphis’ police chief Cerelyn Davis was now shocked. “This incident was heinous, inconsiderate and inhumane,” she said. “It’s not just professional failure. This is a failure of basic humanity towards another person.” This becomes clear in the video material. She also said it was unclear why police stopped Nichols in the first place.
Lawyers for the family described the video footage of the incident as “disgusting”. The police also used an electric taser and pepper spray against Nichols and tied him up. The 29-year-old suffered heavy bleeding from severe beatings after an autopsy commissioned by the family. “His head was swollen like a watermelon,” said Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells. When she saw her son in the hospital, she realized that he was actually already dead. According to the family, Nichols had worked for a courier company and was the father of a four-year-old son.
The lawyers denounced racist actions by the US police against black people in the country and recalled the Rodney King case: the African American was brutally beaten by the police in Los Angeles in 1991 after a chase. The acquittal of the officials led to riots with dozens of deaths. King himself died in 2012. Police Commissioner Davis also drew a comparison to King and said that the video recordings in the Nichols case were at least as bad or even worse.
President Biden stressed that blacks were more likely to be involved in deadly clashes with police. Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter that the family and people of Memphis deserve responsibility. “And all Americans deserve a justice system that lives up to its name.”
There are regular deadly police operations of a similar nature in the USA. The case of George Floyd is representative of this: The African American was killed in May 2020 during a brutal police operation in Minneapolis. One of the police officers sat with his knee on Floyd’s neck until he could not breathe. This case also led to nationwide protests against police violence and racism.