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Memphis disbands police unit after fatal beating as protests continue


2023-01-29T01:17:54Z

The specialized police unit that included at least some of the Memphis officers involved in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols was disbanded on Saturday as more protests took place in U.S. cities a day after harrowing video of the attack was released.

In a statement, the police department said it was permanently deactivating the SCORPION unit after the police chief spoke with members of Nichols’ family, community leaders and other officers.

Video recordings from police body-worn cameras and a camera mounted on a utility pole showed Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, repeatedly screaming “Mom!” as officers kicked, punched and struck him with a baton in his mother’s neighborhood after a Jan. 7 traffic stop. He was hospitalized and died of his injuries three days later.

Five officers involved in the beating, all Black, were charged on Thursday with murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges. All have been dismissed from the department.

Nichols’ family and officials expressed outrage and sorrow but urged protesters to remain peaceful. That request was largely heeded on Friday when scattered protests broke out in Memphis – where marchers briefly blocked an interstate highway – and elsewhere.

Several cities saw renewed demonstrations on Saturday. In Memphis, protesters chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” angrily catcalled a police car that was monitoring the march, with several making obscene gestures. Some cheered loudly when they learned of the disbandment of SCORPION.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York’s Washington Square Park before marching through downtown Manhattan, as columns of police officers walked alongside them.

Taken together, the four video clips released Friday showed police pummeling Nichols even though he appeared to pose no threat. The initial traffic stop was for reckless driving, though the police chief has said the cause for the stop has not been substantiated.

The SCORPION unit, short for the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods, had been formed in October 2021 to concentrate on crime hot spots. Critics say such specialized teams can be prone to abusive tactics.

Friends and family say Nichols was an affable, talented skateboarder who grew up in Sacramento, California, and moved to Memphis before the coronavirus pandemic. The father of a 4-year-old child, Nichols worked at FedEx and had recently enrolled in a photography class.

Nate Spates Jr., 42, was part of a circle of friends, including Nichols, who met up at a local Starbucks.

“He liked what he liked, and he marched to the beat of his own drum,” Spates said, remembering that Nichols would go to a park called Shelby Farms to watch the sunset when he wasn’t working a late shift.

Nichols’ death is the latest high-profile example 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, galvanized worldwide protests over racial injustice.

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People protest next to a police car after the release of the body cam footage showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis

People hold signs during a protest following the release of videos showing Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who died while hospitalized three days later, in New York, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Nakia, Daniel 5, Darius 11 and Devonte 8 take part in a protest after the release of the body cam footage showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who then died three days later after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Tyre Nichols, who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, speaks about waiting in line at Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, California, U.S., in this screen grab taken from a social media video taken in July 2018 obtained by Reuters on July 27, 2023. Bryan Anderson/Freelance Reporter/via REUTERS

Memphis Police Department officers attend a roll call briefing of the department’s SCORPION unit, an acronym for The Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. in a still image from a video released November 12, 2021. Memphis Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

People take part in a protest following the release of a video showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in New York, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

People take part in a protest on the day of the release of a video showing the Memphis police beating of Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died while hospitalized three days after he was pulled over while driving by Memphis police officers, at a protest in New York, U.S., January 27, 2023. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was pulled over while driving and died three days later, is detained by Memphis Police Department officers on January 7, 2023, in this screen grab from a video released by Memphis Police Department on January 27, 2023. Memphis Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Memphis Police Department officers stand near Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was pulled over while driving, beaten and died three days later, on January 7, 2023, in this still image from video released by Memphis Police Department on January 27, 2023. Memphis Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

People take part in a protest following the release of a video showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in New York, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

People protest after the release of the body cam footage showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis

People take part in a protest following the release of a video showing police officers beating Tyre Nichols, the young Black man who died three days after he was pulled over while driving during a traffic stop by Memphis police officers, in New York, U.S., January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon