Image Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Cabradilla
Amid nationwide protests, prosecutors have charged five former Memphis police officers with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, who died January 10 of kidney failure and cardiac arrest after a vicious beating three days earlier during a traffic stop. Memphis and other cities across the U.S. are expecting mass protests against police violence over the weekend, with body-camera footage of the deadly traffic stop set to be released Friday evening. We go to Memphis for an update from community organizer Amber Sherman, a member of the Memphis chapter of Black Lives Matter, who says police brutality is nothing new for many residents. “It’s literally just being caught on camera,” Sherman says. “We have experienced this same kind of violence over and over and over again in our communities.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We begin today’s show in Memphis, Tennessee. On Thursday, five fired police officers were arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old African American man. Nichols died on January 10th of kidney failure and cardiac arrest, three days after his violent arrest following a traffic stop. His family shared a shocking photo of Tyre from his hospital bed shortly before he died. He was violently bruised and on a breathing tube. Earlier today, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis told CNN she has seen no evidence police even had a legitimate reason to stop Nichols’ vehicle. On Thursday night, a candlelight vigil was held in Memphis.
VIGILERS: Justice for Tyre! Justice for Tyre! Justice for Tyre! Justice for Tyre!
AMY GOODMAN: Tyre Nichols was the father of a young son, an amateur photographer and a longtime skateboarder. He had worked at FedEx for the past nine months.
On Thurday, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy outlined the charges against the five police officers.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE MULROY: Second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping resulting in bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping involving the possession of a weapon, official misconduct through unauthorized exercise of power, official misconduct through failure to act when there is a duty imposed by law, and official oppression. While each of the five individuals played a different role in the incident in question, the actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible.
AMY GOODMAN: All five officers charged are African American. They were part of what’s known as the Scorpion unit, which stands for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.” The five officers were all fired earlier this month, after Tyre Nichols’ death. The five officers were booked into the Shelby County Jail Thursday. Bail was set between $250,000 and $350,000 for all five. Two Memphis firefighters have also been relieved of duty while an internal investigation takes place.
Memphis and other cities are now bracing for mass protests over the police killing of Tyre Nichols. Memphis is expected to release police bodycam video at 6 p.m. Memphis time that shows the five officers pepper-spraying, tasing, kicking and beating Nichols for three minutes. David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, said the video is, quote, “absolutely appalling.”
DAVID RAUSCH: I’m sickened by what I saw and what we’ve learned through our extensive and thorough investigation. I’ve seen the video. And as DA Mulroy stated, you will, too. In a word, it’s absolutely appalling. … Let me be clear: What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier in the week, Antonio Romanucci, an attorney for Tyre Nichols’ family, described what he saw in the video. As he spoke, Tyre’s mother behind him began sobbing.
ANTONIO ROMANUCCI: He was defenseless the entire time. He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes.
ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Oh my god!
ANTONIO ROMANUCCI: That is what we saw in that video.
AMY GOODMAN: “Oh my god!” his mother cried out as the lawyer spoke. Ben Crump, another attorney for Tyre Nichols’ family, said Tyre was calling out for his mother while the police beat him.
BEN CRUMP: The last words on the video — he’s only about 80 to 100 yards from his house, and he calls for his mom, three times. “Mom!” he has called for his mom. And so, where is the humanity? Where is the humanity?
AMY GOODMAN: Crump had his arm around Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, who also spoke at the news conference.
ROWVAUGHN WELLS: My son — I know everybody say they — mothers say they had a good son. Everybody’s son is good. But my son, he actually was a good boy. He was — … I don’t know anything right now. All I know is my son Tyre is not here with me anymore. He will never walk through that door again. He will never come in and say, “Hello, parents” — because that’s what he would do. He would come in and say, “Hello, parents.”
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Memphis, where we’re joined by Amber Sherman. She’s a community organizer and a member of the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter. Amber is also the host and creator of the podcast The Law According to Amber.
Amber, thanks so much for joining us in these deeply horrifying times, especially in Memphis right now. You were there last night at the protest. Can you first respond to how you found out about what’s happened, and what your reaction is, what you’re calling for?
AMBER SHERMAN: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
I found out about what happened to Tyre from other organizers, because, honestly, violence by police happens so much in Memphis that I feel it doesn’t even reach mainstream media oftentimes. Tyre’s untimely death was the fourth time someone had been murdered by police in the last two months, since December. So we’re definitely not a — a place that’s, you know, used to experiencing that kind of violence. And I was horrified to hear that five people were involved in literally beating someone to death. It’s extremely disgusting, but it’s also not a surprise, considering the way the police here treat people in Memphis. We are extremely overpoliced. Every experience that my friends have had, and folks that I know, has been violent. They immediately approach situations with violence. They don’t give us the respect that they want us to give them. It’s always “You’re a criminal. And how can we put you down, or how can we put you in your place?”
AMY GOODMAN: So, I’m wondering if you can tell us, then, about the response of Memphis officialdom. For example, the police chief, who is an African American woman, been there, what, for about a year and a half, C.J. Davis, said what she saw was heinous, reckless, inhumane and horrific. And interestingly, in an interview she did today, she said, though she couldn’t see it on bodycam footage, the reason for the traffic stop — they claimed he was driving recklessly. She said when she looked at all the video around, as they can look at a community, she couldn’t even see that. What do you think of, to say the least, not only the police chief, but all of these officials, from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, etc., saying this was criminal, heinous, you know, inhumane? Is that consistent with your experience of how they deal with issues of police brutality in the community?
AMBER SHERMAN: Yes. I mean, like folks have been saying over the past few years, this experience among Black people isn’t abnormal. It’s literally just being caught on camera. We have experienced this same kind of violence over and over and over again in our communities. And their cute little statements don’t mean anything to me, because the Scorpion unit still exists. The different task force units still exist. Unless she’s willing to take some action, honestly, she can keep the cute statements. It does nothing for us.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you talked about the Scorpion unit. Again, if you can explain what that is, just set up in the last two years, and also talk about your confrontation with the Memphis mayor, Strickland, a few days ago?
AMBER SHERMAN: Yeah, the Scorpion unit is another task force unit that we have here. So, Memphis has several task force units, from the multilevel gang unit, the Organized Crime Unit, and now this Scorpion unit, which is another type of organized crime task force. And the goal of it was that they would flood high-crime areas with all of these officers. The Scorpion unit has teams of eight people. So, they would flood those areas with high crime with all these officers, and that’s supposed to deter the crime. But that is definitely not what’s happening, and that’s what hasn’t been happening this entire time. They’re scaring citizens. They’re assaulting people, and they’re murdering them.
And I approached the mayor because he, essentially, has the power to make those decisions within — around policy for the police department or to push C.J. Davis to make those changes. And I think it’s deplorable for them to host an award ceremony in honor of MLK on MLK Day, when MLK would have been in the streets with us. MLK would have been calling for justice for Tyre, too. We wouldn’t have been hosting cute events with shrimp and lobster and waffles, and giving out little awards. Like, that’s not what he stood for. And this is a common pattern with this mayor. He ignores things that shouldn’t be ignored. And until people run up on him with a camera to his face and call him out and interrogate him on how he should be responding to incidents, he doesn’t do anything. And even now he hasn’t done anything. He’s put out cute statements, but he hasn’t done anything, either, just like the police chief.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about these five police officers? A 2016 lawsuit says one of them, accused in Tyre’s beating, allegedly assaulted a prisoner. What do you know of their records?
AMBER SHERMAN: So, we don’t have specifics around their records, because as a part of the demands the family has and that we have as a community, we’ve been asking for those files to be released, and we’ll continue to be asking for those files to be released. But what I can say is that that behavior of officers isn’t abnormal.
And I think it’s disgusting that we, as citizens of a majority-Black city, have these police officers intruding on us, on our regular, everyday lives, and we can’t get the basic things we’ve been asking for, but we can get more and more police officers. And that’s what the mayor has pushed for. The mayor has pushed for limiting residency requirements so that people who live further away can become police officers. They have offered bonuses. They’ve used a lot of the COVID funding for policing. But they haven’t actually addressed any of the real reasons why we have crime or higher crime rates in certain areas.
AMY GOODMAN: The information we have on the 2016 lawsuit said that one of the officers accused in Tyre’s murder allegedly assaulted a prisoner. Officer Demetrius Haley was one of three correction officers at the time reportedly involved in the assault of the prisoner Cordarlrius Sledge in Shelby County, an assault that left him unconscious. Sledge later filed a lawsuit, but a judge dismissed it in 2018, saying Sledge did not properly serve one of the defendants with a summons, Amber.
AMBER SHERMAN: Yeah, I did hear about that lawsuit, and I honestly would not be surprised, considering the way that our pretrial detention center and the prison here operate. Our sheriff does not do a good job. We have critiqued him on that several times, and he has continued to ignore it. We’ve raised concerns about how people were being treated in the jail and the prison, and he has continued to ignore those concerns, as well. So I definitely would not be surprised if someone was experiencing that kind of violence and assault.
AMY GOODMAN: Amber, you’re wearing a shirt that says “Humanize being Black.” I can’t see the second line of your shirt. If you can talk about what the plans are now for protest? As you were at the protest last night — the vigil, I should say. Tyre’s mother calling for peace tonight. Your response to all of this?
AMBER SHERMAN: Yeah, the shirt says “Humanize being Black” over and over and over again. But what I will say is, I think it’s interesting when folks call for peace from us, as citizens who live here, when the only ones being violent are the police. We’ve never had protests that weren’t peaceful. In the years that I’ve been organizing, in the years that I’ve participated in protests, they’ve always been peaceful. The police escalate things. The police are the reason why we’re in the streets in the first place, because they are so violent.
And so, I always implore people, especially businesses who push the fearmongering by closing their businesses early, and police who heavily flood areas on horses, and putting up gates and things like that, to actually hone in on who’s the real violent person here. Five officers beat someone to death, not citizens. And so, asking us to remain peaceful, when the city and the city’s public service and employees aren’t peaceful to us, is, one, unrealistic, but, two, just not true, because we haven’t ever had a protest that wasn’t peaceful.
AMY GOODMAN: [KCRA] in Sacramento spoke to Tyre Nichols’ sister, Keyana Dixon, and his brother, Jamal Dupree, after they learned from family members what the police body-camera video showed.
KEYANA DIXON: For this to happen to him in this way, the pain is just — it’s — I have no words.
bq JAMAL DUPREE: Listening to how my stepfather laid it out, it was horrific. … Calling for my mom. … Out of all five officers, nobody decided to say, “Hey, this is not cool. Like, let’s back up here.”
AMY GOODMAN: That’s KCRA in Sacramento, the interviews with Tyre’s brother and sister. Talk about what’s going to happen tonight. The police bodycam will be released at 6:00 Memphis time. That’s 7:00 Eastern Time. What do you understand you will see? What did it take to get this video released, Amber?
AMBER SHERMAN: It definitely took a lot of on-the-ground organizing, pressuring the folks in charge. I definitely believe that if we hadn’t had the protest on Saturday, about over a week ago, if we hadn’t shown up at City Hall on MLK Day, if we hadn’t been continuing to show up at the DA’s Office and hosting sit-in, if we hadn’t continued to pull up on people who are not responding to us, then we definitely wouldn’t be getting that video footage.
But I do want to be clear: I don’t need a video to know that Tyre was viciously murdered. And I don’t ever encourage Black people to experience that kind of trauma over and over again by watching those types of videos. I tell people over and over again, anything that happens tonight will be in support of the family demands, which still haven’t been answered. They’ve charged five officers, but there were more people involved. They’ve quietly fired people that they won’t name. So, we definitely want to continue to uplift those demands, but we don’t need to see a video to do that. I’ve seen a picture of what Tyre looked like before he was attacked and Tyre in the hospital. That’s enough.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy describing the traffic stop that led to Tyre’s death.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE MULROY: There was an initial traffic stop. And we won’t comment right now on the presence or absence of legality of the stop, but there was a traffic stop. And there was an initial altercation involving several officers and Mr. Nichols. Pepper spray was deployed. The suspect — not the suspect, Mr. Nichols fled on foot. There was another altercation at a nearby location, at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols. After some period of time of waiting around afterwards, he was taken away by an ambulance. Beyond that, I don’t really think I — we should go into any further details.
REPORTER: So, there was a delay in a call — the police delayed calling the ambulance for —
DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE MULROY: There was an elapsed period of time, but I believe that if you watch the video, you’ll be able to make that judgment for yourself.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Amber Sherman, community organizer, member of the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter. Amber is host and creator of the podcast The Law According to Amber. And, Amber, I hope we get to talk to you again next week. We’ll keep people updated at democracynow.org on what happens this weekend. Thank you so much.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Ben Crump, one of the lawyers for the family of Tyre Nichols. He’s in Memphis. Stay with us.
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