The city of Memphis in the United States has disbanded a police unit that included five officers charged with the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist.
Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, the Memphis police chief, announced the move on Saturday citing a “cloud of dishonour”.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Davis said in a statement it was imperative that the police “take proactive steps in the healing process”, and it was in “the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit”.
She said she made the decision after speaking with members of Nichols’s family, community leaders and other officers.
Her announcement came a day after harrowing videos emerged of the police beating Nichols. It showed the 29-year-old Black man repeatedly screaming “Mom!” as officers kicked, punched and struck him with a baton in his mother’s neighbourhood after a January 7 traffic stop. He was hospitalised and died of his injuries three days later.
Five Black officers involved in the beating were charged on Thursday with murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges.
All have been dismissed from the department.
Protesters marching through downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protester said over a bullhorn that “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded”.
The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers whose stated aim is to target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime.
It had been inactive since Nichols’s January 7 arrest and subsequent beating.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers for the Nichols family, said the deactivation was “a decent and just decision”.
“We must keep in mind that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as clearly this misconduct is not restricted to these specialty units. It extends so much further,” they said.
Nichols’s death is the latest high-profile instance of police using excessive force against Black people and other minorities.
The 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, galvanised worldwide protests over racial injustice.
Rallies calling for justice for Nichols took place in cities across the US on Saturday. Several dozen demonstrators in Memphis blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River towards Arkansas, while crowds also marched in New York City, Los Angeles, California, and Portland, Oregon.
Human rights activists said the video of Nichols’s beating left many unanswered questions about the traffic stop.
Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said she was struck by the immediate aggression from officers as soon as they got out of the car.
“It just went to 100. … This was never a matter of de-escalation,” she said. “The young man never had a chance from the moment that he was stopped.”
Goss Andrews added that the video also raised questions about the other law enforcement officers who stood by as Nichols lay motionless on the pavement. “Nobody tried to stop anything,” she said. “They have a duty to intervene, a duty to render care.”
Davis, the Memphis police chief, told The Associated Press news agency that the department could not substantiate the reason for the stop.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said, adding, “All we know is the amount of force that was applied in this situation was over the top.”
Davis has said other officers are under investigation, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said two deputies were relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.
Rodney Wells, Nichols’s stepfather, said the family would “continue to seek justice”, and those who failed to render aid are “just as culpable as the officers who threw the blows”.
A Memphis police spokeswoman declined to comment on the other officers’ conduct.
Reverend Al Sharpton, a prominent human rights activist, said on Saturday that the beating was particularly egregious because the officers were also Black.
“Your Blackness will not stop us from fighting you,” Sharpton said in a speech in Harlem, New York. “These five cops not only disgraced their names, they disgraced our race,” he added.