Memphis prepares for protests as video of police beating Tyre Nichols is released

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.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Authorities in Memphis and other cities are urging peaceful protest tonight as they release a graphic video of the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The 29-year-old died earlier this month three days after he was hospitalized.

    Police brutally beat, Tased and pepper-sprayed him for three minutes following a traffic stop. Five former police officers are now charged with his murder. Last night, friends family and supporters turned out for a candlelight vigil at Tyre Nichols' favorite skateboard park.

    The Memphis police chief has said there was no probable cause to warrant Nichols' arrest. And, this week, many of the city's top officials have described the video of his arrest as horrific and difficult to watch.

    His mother, RowVaughn Williams — Wells has said that she couldn't watch the full video of what happened to her son. His last words captured on tape are said to be him calling out for his mother's help.

    Today, before that video was released, Wells told reporters about her son.

    RowVaughn Wells, Mother of Tyre Nichols: He loved photography. He loved skateboarding. He was just his own person. He didn't follow what everybody else was doing. I tried to buy him a pair of Jordans one time, and he: "Oh, my mama, I don't want those."


  • RowVaughn Wells:

    He wanted some Vans, you know?

    So, I'm just telling you guys, my son was a beautiful soul. He was a good boy. No one's perfect, but he was damn near.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    We're going to take a closer look now at the police killing of Tyre Nichols and how the Memphis community is responding.

    I spoke a short time ago with the Reverend Earle Fisher, senior pastor of the Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis.

    Reverend Fisher, thank you for being with us.

  • Rev. Earle Fisher, Senior Pastor, Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church:

    Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I imagine that there is a heaviness in Memphis, a deep sense of outrage, anger, shock, hurt.

    How are people processing what's transpired?

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    Well, that's a difficult question to respond to.

    I think all of the emotions that you articulated are definitely palpable. And, at the same time, I think there is a sense of anxiety, but there's a sense of hope. There's a few steps that have been taken in the right direction towards at least a semblance of justice, because true justice would be Tyre Nichols would still be breathing.

    So, of course, our heart goes out to his family, and we stand in solidarity with them. But it still remains to be seen. And I don't think anybody can actually predict what the next several hours or the next few days are going to hold.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What makes this case of police violence different is that all of the officers involved are Black. What also makes it different is how quickly they were arrested and charged.

    There are people who find a direct connection between those two things. But I want to hear your reaction to what Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Tyre Nichols family, had to say about this today.

    Benjamin Crump, Attorney for Family of Tyre Nichols: We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be black or white, will be held accountable. No longer can you tell us we got to wait six months to a year.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, what about, that swift justice is the new standard and that this Memphis case, this tragedy proves that it can be done?

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    I definitely agree with the sentiment of attorney Crump. And I think it's important to put into context, so many different developments that led to what we have seen happen over the last few days.

    I don't think anybody should be caught up in a projected benevolence of people within the system just doing the right thing. This is the byproduct of several years of righteous and aggressive advocacy and activism work from when Darrius Stewart was killed in 2015, from bridge demonstrations in 2016, the removal of Confederate monuments in 2017. And the list goes on and on.

    What I deeply appreciate about what attorney Crump said is that, as unique as this case may be, especially insofar as this heinous and egregious video is concerned, what we definitely know is this is still part and parcel of a larger system and structure of policing.

    And we have been trying to advocate for righteous reforms here on the ground for quite some time. But they have been resisted and they have been reduced, which I think contributed to the moment that we're faced with now. So our heart goes out to the family of Tyre Nichols. And I even believe his mother and his father believe that this is not just about this isolated incident, because it's not isolated. It's interconnected to what's happening, insofar as policing is concerned, across the country.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, let me ask you about that, because Tyre Nichols was pulled over just blocks away from his home by this specialized police unit known as Scorpion, which was set up a little more than a year ago to police this surge in violent crime in parts of Memphis.

    And these specialized crime fighting teams have been scrutinized, for targeting people of color and for operating with impunity. What was the level of concern about this Scorpion team before this fatal assault?

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    Well, a few things, I think, come to mind.

    One is that the officers involved had all been on the force for five or less years. And you would wonder how they would be able to get in a specialized unit with such a short time span for experience. Not only that. I think, when you think about the level of oversight and supervision that should have been provided to them, because I don't think anybody who's being mildly objective would perceive that this was somehow their first time engaged in this heinous behavior.

    You don't start off with this level of brutality on your first rodeo. You have to graduate to this point. So, our question again is, who was responsible for the management and oversight that should have been provided to them? They're connected to other units that people have been skeptical about, and we think that there's a covert nature to them.

    And I — and to be fair to law enforcement, I understand, because of some of their responsibilities, there might need to be some covert elements involved. But, at the same time, there has to be enough transparency and accountability to ensure that these developments don't reach this particular level, because we don't have to be here today.

    We're here today in part because of the competing philosophies and ideologies about how to make the city safer. So, Chief Davis, Mayor Strickland, they put this unit together in the fall of 2021. It didn't even take a year-and-a-half before we have at least one dead body, and not telling if we have more bodies that have been brutalized, but just because of the grace of God, people didn't die.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten beyond recognition, his family says.

    The police chief says that this video of Nichols' arrest shows unconscionable behavior, acts that defy humanity. That was the phrase that she used. The FBI director said today that he was appalled by what he saw.

    How do you expect the city of Memphis will respond to this?

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    That's beyond my pay grade.

    I am hopeful and prayerful because of past patterns and practices from protesters. They have shown all manner of — we have shown all manner of poise and passion. And if there has ever been any escalation in past protests in Memphis, it was the police department that initiated it and escalated it.

    So, I trust the poise and the passion of the people. And I have been trying to urge the citizens to look out for each other. So, if somebody is out there, and they see somebody doing something that's unbecoming, I would hope that they would intervene with the highest level of love and appreciation, not only for each other, but especially for the family of Tyre Nichols.

    I also think is not the wisest thing to release a video that you know is going to be insightful and inflammatory on a Friday evening. I think there could have been some deeper discussion and dialogue about better ways to introduce that to the public.

    So, again, we don't really know. I think those of us who have been on the ground for the last several years are going to be here for the long haul. And we are hoping for the best and still trying to prepare for the worst.

    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.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Lastly, Reverend Fisher, we shouldn't lose sight of who Tyre Nichols was. He was all of 29 years old, was said to be a free spirit who enjoyed skateboarding and photography.

    He was a father, a man who deeply loved his mother. I know you were at the vigil last night and you had a chance to speak with his family members. What do they want the world to know about their son, their brother?

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    Based upon what they have been saying over the last several weeks, they want people to know how human Tyre was, how much he loved sunsets, they talked about, how much he loved skateboard, and how faithful he was in his work, his relationship with his mother, his father, his family, his child, I believe.

    So I think, any time we can humanize people who have been brutalized in this way, it's valuable. I also want to challenge us to continue to lift him up, to lift up others who have suffered similar injustices, and continue the journey with these families, even after the cameras are gone, after the smoke clears, after the funerals, because people continue to bear the burden and the trauma of these instances.

    As his mother was saying, we should not have to do what we're doing now. So we will do the best we can with what we have.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The Reverend Earle Fisher, a senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, appreciate you, and thanks for giving us your time.

  • Rev. Earle Fisher:

    Thank you.

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