Two and a half years after the violent death of unarmed detainee George Floyd, America looks again at images of brutal police brutality, knowing that this youngest victim has also passed away. Disgust will prevail in most, such as President Biden in a statement Friday said: “I was outraged and deeply moved after seeing the horrific video of the beating that led to the death of Tire Nichols.”
The Memphis Police Department released four recordings on Friday containing bodycam footage of three officers and images from a security camera on the street. For example, on the evening of January 7, you can see how at least four officers drag a driver out of his car. In a first statement the Memphis police department called it a “traffic stop for dangerous driving.”
The 11-minute recording of bodycam X603995WT shows how Nichols is dragged out of the car with verbal and physical aggression. “On the ground, God damn it,” the policemen shout. “I am on the ground,” says Nichols, who is being held and has also been tasered to his leg. At first he seems calm, but one minute after being pulled out of the car, he frees himself from the grip of the officers and runs off.
Less than eight minutes later, a security camera captures Nichols on the ground, surrounded by three officers holding him down. One of them walks away for a moment, then returns and kicks Nichols twice, apparently in the head. Then a colleague comes with a drawn baton. Nichols gets to his feet, is restrained and takes two blows with the baton. The first officer then hits him five times in the head. The street where it happened was the street where he lived, with his mother and stepfather. The security camera recordings have no sound, but on the X6039BM2U bodycam, he can be heard shouting “Mom!” several times. screams.
According to the police’s original press release, the “showdown eventually ended in arrest” and an ambulance was called because “the suspect complained of shortness of breath afterwards.” Three days later, Nichols died in hospital, aged 29.
The pain and exhaustion
In the race between the police and (firearms) violence by criminals and civilians, fatalities are very common – even people who are only arrested for a simple traffic violation. The New York Times took stock of traffic arrests that got out of hand in October 2021. In five years, police had killed more than 400 motorists — “they didn’t have a gun or a knife in their hand, nor were they wanted for a violent crime,” the newspaper said.
The officers involved can be of any ethnic background, such as the agents identified as murder suspects who are all African-American, but the victims are disproportionately black men. “This is another painful reminder of the deep anguish and trauma, the pain and exhaustion that black and brown Americans experience every day.” said President Biden.
The death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was arrested in Minneapolis on suspicion of paying with counterfeit money and then choked to death under the knee of a (white) officer who sat on him while colleagues watched, led to the spring of 2020 to days of demonstrations across the country, some of which escalated into violent riots. So far, after the publication of the images of Nichols’ arrest, peace has been kept at demonstrations.
After Floyd’s death, discussions flared up about police brutality and structural racism in law enforcement. New training courses were set up across the country. The (un)desirability of police deployment in social problems was discussed. Due to the sharp increase in criminal violence during and especially after the lockdowns of the corona pandemic, the discussion about reforms in the police has been somewhat pushed into the background.
For example, in November 2021, the special police unit of which the five suspects are members was created. The so-called Scorpio unit (SCORPION – Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods) consisted of four teams of ten agents each. They patrolled exclusively in neighborhoods with high crime rates, selected on the basis of 112 emergency calls.
Car theft, gang violence and drug crime would become their focus. In the first two months of their existence, they would have made 566 arrests and seized 253 weapons, according to the chief officer at the time.
Has so much changed in two and a half years? It is, judging by the relative calm and composure with which people react to images of Nichols’ arrest. What’s that in?
Difference: In May 2020, footage of Floyd’s asphyxia was released by outsiders filming and vociferously protesting police actions in Minneapolis. The Memphis police released the images themselves.
Difference: The cops who beat Tire Nichols are black. Floyd was killed by a white American.
Difference: President Biden expressed his disgust on the same day the footage was released. At the time, President Trump waited three days – three days and nights during which the protest turned into arson in Minneapolis.
Difference: The Minneapolis police immediately suspended the officers involved, but the union was angrier at the time about “lack of political support” in the fighting the riotsthan the conduct of the agents involved.
In Memphis, the police force immediately took measures. The five officers were charged with murder and kidnapping on Thursday. On Friday, the SCORPION unit was finally disbanded.
In short, the nervous state of alert in which the police act seems hardly changed when you see these images. But the response to police violence, from the police force, from fellow police forces and from the competent authority, is very different. For example, the call of the family to protest peacefully has so far been heeded.