Tire Nichols beating fuels calls for sweeping police reforms

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Legal experts and civil rights advocates said the harrowing footage showing a group of Memphis police officers delivering blow after blow to Tire Nichols underscores the need for sweeping police reforms across the United States.

Experts interviewed by the Guardian stressed body-worn and surveillance footage was instrumental in revealing what transpired, but it is not a panacea.

“At the end, that final video shows someone being beaten and abused like they’re in a pinball game. It’s like the ball is being thrown from one end to the other,” said Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and co-chair of the Newman Ferrara civil rights firm.

“The most shocking thing about all of this is the brutality and then, ultimately, the complete dehumanization of this man. He’s not even human to them — he’s not even a person,” McLaughlin said. “It’s like they just went to play baseball and talked about what happened next. There is absolutely no excuse for this.

Related: Timeline: Tire Nichols police kills key events

Nichols, 29, was beaten by police after a traffic stop on January 7 and died three days later. Footage of the beating was released on Friday.

McLaughlin said that in many police shooting cases, officers will argue that “it was a fast-moving situation, a split-second decision was made, it was my life or his,” but officers Memphis could not make any such claim. . “The man was helpless. Helpless.

The officers’ actions, McLaughlin said, underlined the need for a much broader approach to reform. “This man was not a criminal. He was just trying to get home to his mother. That’s all he was trying to do. If he can’t do it, none of us are safe,” McLaughlin said. “He proves we need a national standard.”

“The Memphis police chief has taken a very aggressive stance. There’s no doubt she’s taking this seriously,” McLaughlin said. “The problem is what’s happening in Mississippi, what’s happening in New York, in every city, in every state.”

“These are not crimes that are committed in solitary confinement,” McLaughlin also said. “Black and colored men and the poor are treated like this.”

The video provided shows a cohort of officers landing numerous blows at Nichols, 29, as he languishes against the sidewalk, crying out for his mother. Nichols is punched, kicked and hit with a nightstick.

When the officers who beat Nichols drag him into a police car and lay him on his side, his serious physical condition worsens for more than 20 minutes before an ambulance arrives on the scene. Nichols, father of a four-year-old boy, died on January 10.

Related: Memphis Police disband unit whose officers beat Tire Nichols to death

Five officers involved in the incident, who are black, were fired last week. They were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression in Nichols’ death.

Memphis Police Department Chief CJ Davis announced Saturday that he was disbanding the unit whose officers beat Nichols to death. They were part of what was called the Scorpion unit, which had several teams of about 30 street cops pursuing violent offenders in areas with high crime rates, the Associated Press said.

“It is in everyone’s best interest to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” Davis said, saying the decision was made after hearing from Nichols’ family, community members and officers who were not in the unit. Other police officers in the unit who were not involved in the incident “unreservedly agree” with the decision, Davis said.

Earlier, the Legal Aid Society of New York City said in a statement that the footage “underscores the epidemic of police violence that continues to plague communities of color nationwide.”

“This is truly a systemic crisis, impacting black men overwhelmingly, and each of these tragedies deepens the wounds of racial trauma that all people of color are forced to endure,” the office said in a statement. “We must continue to question the role of the police in society, as these incidents recur frequently and many more happen all the time without being caught on body-worn cameras.”

Sanford Rubenstein, the veteran New York City civil rights attorney who represented Abner Louima and Sean Bell’s family, said the “extensive video is pictures of the truth” that will be used to prosecute these officers.

“You don’t have a single bad apple, you have five officers engaged in a horrific beating that resulted in death,” Rubenstein said, later adding: “If you try to look into the minds of [these] police, they obviously believed they could do what they did with impunity.”

Rubenstein also pointed out that Nichols’ death traumatized those who experienced police violence. “One of the elements of this tragedy is the effect it has had on many victims of police brutality,” said Rubenstein. “This now brings back [memories] to their families, especially the families of those who died – bring them back to life, as they view the video and all the news coverage of this video.

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