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Memphis pastor criticizes media's handling of Tyre Nichols video ahead of protests

January 28, 2023


Authorities in Memphis and other cities are urging peaceful protests as they prepare for the release of graphic video of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old died this month after police beat him for three minutes following a traffic stop. The five fired police officers are charged with his murder. Geoff Bennett spoke with Rev. Earle Fisher about the Memphis community’s response.

TEACHER’S NOTE: This segment does not contain video coverage of Tyre Nichols being brutally attacked by police. However, the material is sensitive and should be previewed before showing to your class. We also recommend that you give students space to talk about they want to see in their own communities. If you would like to talk with your class about how to discuss disturbing violence, you might consider using the “psychological first aid” resource in this lesson.

For a transcript of this story, click here.

Five Facts

  • Who was Tyre Nichols? How does his mother RowVaughn Wells describe her son?
  • What police unit were the officers a part of, and what was the unit’s role in the community?
  • When was Nichols pulled over by police? When did Nichols die from his injuries suffered during the attack by police?
  • How does Rev. Fisher feel about the news media’s response to protests in Memphis?
  • Why do you think RowVaughn Wells wanted to share what her son was like, including how he loved skateboarding and photography?

Tyre Nichols, who died in a hospital on Jan. 10, three days after sustaining injuries during his arrest by police officers, is seen in this undated picture obtained from social media. Facebook/Deandre Nichols/via REUTERS

Focus Questions

Why do police killings of unarmed Black men continue to occur across the country and what will it take for these killings to stop?

What impact does video footage of the beating of Tyre Nichols have on the case of the five police officers charged with Nichols’ death? Why does video footage not guarantee that justice will be served?

As you reflect on these very sad and serious events, what would you like to see happen in your community? What would you like the conversation to be about?

Media literacy: Read Rev. Fisher’s remarks about the mainstream media’ role in the coverage of the attack on Tyre Nichols:

Lastly, I would say I think the air of the city has been impacted by the way mainstream media has couched the developments. I would have loved to see mainstream media outlets say stuff like, Memphis plans for a peaceful protest, as opposed to Memphis is on edge.

When they started reporting at the beginning of the week, I was looking around, because I felt like I missed something. That hadn’t been what was in the air. That hadn’t been what I had felt. That hadn’t been what my colleagues had felt.

But now we have to brace for it and prepare for it. And so, again, we’re preparing for the worst and praying for the best.

Take a few minutes to search the web and read news headlines from this past week about protests in Memphis following the release of the video.

  • What did you come across? What did the headlines say?
  • How do decisions by journalists to include phrases like the city of Memphis “braces” itself or Memphis is “on edge” set up a narrative that may not in fact exist and exacerbate the situation?
  • Why does Rev. Fisher warn against this type of framing by reporters?
  • What do you think of the argument that the media turned the release of the footage into something of a spectacle, essentially counting down its release on Friday? How might this be dehumanizing to Black life?

Teacher’s note: This part of the lesson on media literacy can be used for a discussion of the impact of the 24-hour news cycle and straight news versus speculation and commentary that may heighten the public’s emotions and sensationalize events for the sake of ratings and viewership.

Other cities across the U.S. shared in grief and outrage about the killing of Tyre Nichols. Protesters rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, in Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, DC, on January 27, 2023. Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

For More

What students can do: Talk to a family member, friend or teacher about how you are feeling after learning about this story. Ask them questions and share what is on your mind.

You may want to read the article, Memphis students share feelings with city leaders about Tyre Nichols’ death to learn about ways a group of students in Memphis decided to take a civic action after discussing Tyre Nichols’ death in class.

NOTE: The video that accompanies the article shows still shots of Nichols badly beaten in the hospital bed before he died. You can explain this to students or just read the article. Here is an excerpt featuring a long-term substitute teacher in Memphis who discussed Nichols’ death with her class:

When 29-year-old Nichols died after a confrontation with police, Durham said her students had a lot of questions.

She talked with them about police brutality, juvenile crime and constitutional rights.

“They need to know about civic participation. They need to know about civic awareness. They are young, but they are members of this community,” she said.

After watching a news conference with Nichols’s parents on Monday, each student wrote a letter to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and councilman Edmund Ford Sr., expressing how they felt.

Durham said she wants her students to know their voices count, and they have the power to make change.

“I wanted to see their take,” she said. “I wanted to let them know they are included and that we listen to them and see them.”

If you were writing a letter to officials about Nichols’ death, what would you say? What reforms in policing are needed? If you think you might want to send your letter to officials where you live, talk with your teacher or family member who can help you find their email addresses or mailing addresses.

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