There are still many unanswered questions regarding Tyre Nichols’ brutal beating in Memphis, Tennessee, days after a horrifying video of the incident surfaced. Among them are why he was stopped in the first place and what caused his death. The video raises many questions about the traffic stop involving the driver and the conduct of the law enforcement personnel who watched as the driver lay motionless on the pavement.
In Memphis, Tennessee, on January 7, Nichols, a 29-year-old Black driver, was stopped on suspicion of reckless driving and brutally assaulted by police. In the video footage made available by the Memphis police, Nichols cries out for his mother before the officer’s fist-bumps him and props his limp body up against a squad car. He passed away three days later.
Three days after their arrest, the five disgraced officers from the Memphis Police Department were fired and charged with second-degree murder and other offences.
A critical question that has not been addressed is why Nichols was stopped by members of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) unit. According to Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, the unit shouldn’t have stopped Nichols for a traffic stop because it was “far outside of the unit’s stated purpose of stemming violent crime.”
According to one officer, Nichols wouldn’t stop and then swerved as if to strike the officer’s vehicle. The video footage does not begin until after police confronted him at a crosswalk. It is unclear why the initial traffic stop was not captured on camera.
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The footage shows that the young man was pulled over by the officers, who then forced him out of the car and onto the ground. The officers can be seen attempting to use their Tasers on Nichols in the video, but he quickly flees the scene. The officers catch up with him at another intersection. Three of them reportedly push him down, kick him, while a fourth officer walks over and starts beating him with a baton, and then pepper spraying him. The beating continues while two officers hold him up for him to take the beating. Even after he collapses, not a single officer attempts to help him, as reported by multiple outlets.
Ohio’s Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson called the initial traffic stop “highly unusual” for several reasons. Police officers, according to Stinson, have a moral and legal duty to step in if another officer is abusing excessive force. But from the videos, it seemed like local law enforcement did not get involved very much.
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