Protests broke out in cities all across the country following the release of body camera footage of five Tennessee police officers brutally assaulting motorist Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was pulled over earlier this month and arrested for alleged reckless driving. The body camera footage released Friday by officials shows the Memphis police officers beating and pepper-spraying Nichols as he lay on the ground during the Jan. 7 encounter. He sustained severe injuries from the assault and died three days later from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
The release of the videos depicting Nichol’s fatal beating resulted in public grief and unrest nationwide. Traffic in New York City’s Times Square came to a standstill on Friday evening as people took to the streets protesting Nichols’ death, with some chanting, “All cops are bastards.” In Boston, demonstrators carried a banner through the street chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, these racist systems got to fall.”
The five police officers involved in Nichols’ death were arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Thursday. Two were released on bond, and all five were fired from the Memphis Police Department. The Department of Justice and FBI announced last week that they would investigate Nichols’ death.
Earlier this month, a photo of Nichols in an “unrecognizable” state in his hospital bed was released. In a CNN interview, Nichols’ parents said seeing their son in the hospital in such horrific condition was reminiscent of Emmitt Till, a Black 14-year-old who was abducted and lynched in 1955. (Till’s body was displayed in an open casket at his mother’s request, who wanted people to see the brutality, injustice and racism that led to her son’s death. This served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement).
Police brutality and misconduct, which has been protested for decades, garnered widespread attention in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd as protests spread worldwide in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Do you know how much force it takes to beat somebody with your bare hands, how much violence that takes, how much anger that takes, how much hate that has to take?” McKayla Wilkes, the founder of the grassroots organization Schools Not Jails, said while attending a rally in Washington, D.C., on Friday. “I think we need to break the system, shut it the fuck down and reimagine what it’s like for our communities to actually be safe.”
President Joe Biden called for peaceful protests in a statement released on Thursday.
“As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” Biden said. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
He added: “Public trust is the foundation of public safety, and there are still too many places in America today where the bonds of trust are frayed or broken. Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.”
Most protests appeared peaceful in videos circulating online. However, in New York City, a protester was dragged off of the hood of a police car after kicking the windshield. According to NBC New York, three people were reportedly arrested for vandalism of a New York Police Department vehicle.
The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 were perceived by some as being largely violent. But reports show that 93% of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 were peaceful. In addition, some activists point out that no one should dictate how people protest in the face of oppression.
“You can not dictate to people how to protest and resist the violent state oppression we are all experiencing,” grassroots organizer Bree Newsome Bass said in a tweet.
Nichols’ mother started a GoFundMe on Friday. More rallies and marches are expected to continue Saturday evening in cities across the U.S., including Memphis, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and more.