Memphis disbands police force after protesters take to streets, fatally beaten

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan 28 (Reuters) – A special police unit including five Memphis officers accused of beating Tire Nichols was released on Saturday.

In a statement, the police department said it was permanently deactivating the SCORPION unit after the chief spoke with Nichols’ family, community leaders and other officers. A police spokesman confirmed that all five officers were members of the unit.

Footage from police body cameras and cameras mounted on utility poles showed Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, repeatedly screaming “Mom!” after officers punched and kicked him in his mother’s neighborhood on Jan. 1, and beat him with batons. 7 transportation stations. He was taken to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries three days later.

The five officers involved in the beating, all black, were charged with murder, battery, kidnapping and other crimes Thursday. All were fired from the department.

Nichols’ family and officials expressed anger and sadness but urged protesters to remain peaceful. In scattered protests in Memphis and elsewhere on Friday — marchers briefly blocked an interstate highway — the plea was largely answered.

There were new nonviolent demonstrations in cities across the United States on Saturday. In Memphis, protesters chanted “Whose street? Our street!” angrily called a police car that was monitoring the march, and several made obscene gestures. Some cheered loudly upon the news that SCORPION had disbanded.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York’s Washington Square Park before marching through Manhattan with a police line alongside them.

Taken together, four video clips released Friday show police beating Nichols even though he did not appear to be a threat. The initial traffic stop was for reckless driving, although the police chief said the reason for the stop has not been confirmed.

In October 2021 the SCORPION group, short for Street Crime Action to Restoring Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was established to focus on crime hotspots. Critics say such professional teams are prone to abusive tactics.

Friends and family say Nichols was an affable and talented skateboarder who grew up in Sacramento, California, and moved to Memphis before the coronavirus pandemic. The father of a 4-year-old, Nichols works at FedEx and recently took a photography class.

Nate Spates Jr., 42, was part of a circle of friends, including Nichols, who met at a Starbucks in the area.

“He likes what he likes, and he goes at his own pace,” said Spates, who remembers Nichols going to a park called Shelby Farms to watch the sunset when he wasn’t working his late shift.

Nichols’ death is the latest high-profile incident of excessive police use of force against black people and other minorities. The 2020 murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, sparked protests around racial injustice around the world.

Reporting by Maria Cardona in Memphis, Tennessee and Diane Bartz in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Diane Butts

Thomson Reuters

Focused on U.S. antitrust and corporate regulation and legislation, with experience covering the Bosnian War, elections in Mexico and Nicaragua, and Brazil, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Peru.

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