MEMPHIS, Tennessee: About 50 protesters gathered Friday night in Memphis demanding justice after a video was released showing police violently arresting Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who died a few days after the incident.
Waving signs reading “Justice for Tyre” and “End police terror”, they headed to Martyrs Park in the centre of the city best known as the home of Elvis Presley.
Five police officers have been charged with second-degree murder in the beating of the 29-year-old, who died in a Memphis hospital on Jan 10 three days after being stopped on suspicion of reckless driving.
The few dozen protesters, chanting “No justice, no peace”, managed to block a major road in the city, causing evening traffic jams. The procession carried on to a bridge crossing the Mississippi River.
“Whose bridge?” shouted an activist with a megaphone; “Our bridge” came the reply from the crowd.
Monica Johnson, a community organiser from Atlanta, said it was “sick” that all the accused policemen were also Black, an anomaly among recent high-profile killings of Black men, which often involve white officers.
“But it doesn’t surprise me, because we’ve seen for years and for decades that Black people have — for a cheque, for their occupation — done the same thing and served the same system of white supremacy and capital,” the 24-year-old said.
She said the protesters demanded “accountability, conviction for all of the cops involved and a stop to the police making those traffic stops where they kill people.”
“For me there is no good cop,” said LJ Abraham, a community organiser in Memphis.
“And so for me, it does not matter what the race of the cop is. They’re hired to protect us and serve — they’re failing on that across the country, and to say ‘murder’ is the proper word to describe what happened, he was murdered,” she added. (Story continues below)
A still image from a Memphis Police Department body-cam video released by the City of Memphis shows officers beating Tyre Nichols, who later died of his injuries. (Photo: City of Memphis via AFP)
For David Stacks, a Black Memphis resident who owns a car detailing business, Nicols’ death “should draw everybody together, open the eyes of” the country’s African-American population.
“Like, this is bigger than all other obstacles and whatever y’all have, going on amongst each other,” the 38-year-old said.
Authorities had feared that fury triggered by the video could spark widespread violence, but the centre of the city remained calm, with businesses still open.
Earlier in the day, at a Memphis skate park where Nichols was a regular, Robert Walters, a 67-year-old blues musician visiting the city from Virginia, said the fact the officers were Black “hurts.”
“I’m a Black man living in America. And that fear is always something that me and my son, we grew up with and we live with,” he told AFP, in reference to police brutality.
“These guys, you’d think, of anybody, should know (better), but it just goes to show you that anybody can fall into that trap,” he said.
“I just want people to just be calm and not do anything stupid, not destroy or hurt.”
Candles and flowers had been laid in Nichols’ honor at the skate park.
“Rest in peace Tyre,” read a handwritten message on the flowers.
“We’re so sorry.”