President Biden has appealed for calm ahead of the release of video footage showing five Memphis police officers fatally injuring 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.
Cities across the country “are bracing for protests” after publication of the video, which has been described as “gruesome and distressing”, said The New York Times.
“Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable,” said President Biden. “Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
He added: “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.”
Five police officers – Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean – were fired following Nichols’ death and were each charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
The arrests and criminal charges come almost three weeks after Nichols’ vehicle was stopped in Memphis for what police later said was suspected reckless driving.
He was hospitalised after being apprehended by police and died three days later from what an independent autopsy indicated was “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating”, said the Nichols family lawyer, Antonio Romanucci. “He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Romanucci told reporters, according to Axios. “That is what we saw in that video.” The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that Nichols died from his injuries on 10 January.
Key questions “remain unanswered as the nation – already vigilant of how police treat people of color, especially following the mass protests of 2020 – waits for police to release footage of the incident”, said CNN.
It’s not clear “what about Nichols’ driving might have appeared reckless” to prompt the traffic stop, the broadcaster added, or “how far Nichols fled on foot” after he was initially stopped. Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, told CNN that Nichols fled from the police because he was afraid.
“He did not run because he was trying to get rid of no drugs, no guns, no any of that. He ran because he was scared for his life,” said Wells. “And when you see the video, you will see why he was scared for his life.”
Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis condemned the actions of officers involved and said she expected the community to react.
“This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual,” she said. “I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand actions and results but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” she said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”