Deadly beating of Tyre Nichols yet another grave testament to entrenched racial discrimination in US
The video released on Friday night, which captured a violent arrest of an unarmed African American man, stood as another appalling testimony to the lingering spectre over America of racism in policing, triggering protests and inflaming public criticism.
Tyre Nichols, 29, was beaten by police after a traffic stop on January 7 in Memphis, Tennessee, where they allegedly stopped him for reckless driving.
The 29-year-old African American died at a hospital three days after the confrontation, during which Nichols was punched and kicked while being restrained. He pleaded to go home and kept yelling "mom."
"What happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal," said David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, who told reporters on Friday that he saw the video before it was released to the public and found it "absolutely appalling."
"What's most shocking about it all is the brutality and then at the end, the complete dehumanization of this man. He's not even human to them – he's not even a person," Randolph McLaughlin, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and co-chair of the Newman Ferrara civil rights practice, told The Guardian.
The five officers involved in the ferocity were fired after an internal investigation and are facing criminal charges, including second-degree murder.
The incident came nearly three years after the police murder of 46-year-old African American man George Floyd, who died on May 25, 2020, after an encounter with Minneapolis police, during which officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during a street arrest.
Floyd's death sparked outrage and protests across the United States in the summer of 2020 against police brutality and systemic racism. However, such kind of tragedy continues to unfold in this country, and Nichols' ordeal once again reignited public anger this winter.
Demonstrations have broken out in a series of cities, including Memphis, Washington D.C., New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles during the weekend, demanding justice for Nichols while decrying police violence and racism.
"Shame on this system," protesters chanted in downtown Washington D.C., on Friday night.
Analysts said the fact that the five officers are Black in Nichols' case pointed out a systemic problem in how people of color are treated regardless of officers' race in the country.
It is the system and the tactics that foster racism and violence, rather than the specific racial identities of officers, said a New York Times article on Saturday.
Amber Sherman, an activist and organizer working with the Nichols family as they push for policy changes in the police, said that racism is a clear factor in policing when you look at whom the victims of police violence are, not the race of the officers.
Officers of all races "are indoctrinated into a practice that sees Black people and Brown people as less than," Sherman was quoted by the article as saying.
It is not racism but culturalism driving this, it is a culture in law enforcement where it is OK to be aggressive to those they are supposed to serve, said Robert Sausedo, the head of Community Build Inc, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was "outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols' death."
"It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day," Biden stressed.
In a joint tweet released on Sunday, Barack and Michelle Obama said that Nichols' death is a "painful reminder" for America.
"The vicious, unjustified beating of Tyre Nichols and his ultimate death at the hands of five Memphis police officers is just the latest, painful reminder of how far America still has to go in fixing how we police our streets," the couple said.
Police killed 1,186 people in the United States last year, according to Mapping Police Violence. In 2022, 26 percent of those killed by police were African Americans, who account for only 13 percent of the population.