MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, fueled by newly released body camera footage showing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by police officers, demanded justice, accountability and police reform Saturday afternoon.
Many in the crowd voiced their frustrations regarding a long history of police violence against citizens, corruption and the need to disband several tactical units under the police department.
“Just growing up here, this is not really new to us. It’s new to us being on this magnitude but this is an issue we’re tired of seeing,” said protester George Brooks, 44, outside one of the city’s police stations where more than 200 people had amassed. “We’re used to having issues with police in this city.”
Body camera footage of Nichols being savagely beaten by Memphis officers on Jan. 7 was released Friday night, igniting protests across the U.S. He died three days later.
Five police officers have been fired from the department and are facing second-degree murder charges. City officials on Saturday announced the disbanding of the year-old Scorpion unit, where those officers were based.
Memphis’ anguish and anger were expressed at mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country Saturday, including in Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Memphis protest organizer Hunter Demster said city officials have met some protesters’ demands such as announcing on Saturday that the tactical unit Scorpion, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, is being disbanded.
The high-profile anti-violence unit launched in November 2021 when the city’s murder rate was soaring and the community was calling for action.
“In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignment, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit,” the department said in a statement Saturday.
Demster said the decision was great, but not good enough, insisting that the department’s gang and crime task force also need to be removed.
“Long term goals, we’re gonna have sustained action shutting down commerce and roads until actual policy is passed,” he said. “If a group is coming to the civic center for a function, we’re going to shut it down. If the president of the United States is driving down the street, that’s the street we’re gonna shut down.”
He added, he wants people to stop being killed at the hands of police in addition to massive police reform.
At the demonstration, many in attendance said they were fed up with an unjust and aggressive police force with a long, local history of being corrupt.
For Memphis demonstrator Joshua Lewis, 18, he said he wasn’t surprised by the actions of the officers who were caught on camera beating Nichols.
“It angered me to see the video of Tyre but this is normal (in Memphis) and I feel that it’s time for a change. We’ve been trying to change it for years,” he said, adding it starts with the police and ends with city hall.
“The corruption of the Memphis police and the death of Tyre Nichols, we’re just tired altogether. We need answers because after watching the video, I have more questions,” said demonstrator Rachel Spriggs, 38.