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Demonstrations, calls for police reforms flood Memphis

Peaceful protesters urge justice for Tyre Nichols, 29, who died after a beating by police that was captured on video.
Image: Memphis Reacts To Release Of Police Body Cam Video Of Tyre Nichols' Arrest Prior To His Death Days Later
Demonstrators on Saturday protest the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, after the release Friday evening of a video of the beating of Nichols, 29, a Black man, sparked protests throughout the country. Five Black Memphis police officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, fueled by newly released body camera video showing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by police officers, demanded justice, accountability and police reform Saturday afternoon.

Many in the crowd voiced their frustrations regarding a long history of police violence against citizens, corruption and the need to disband several tactical units under the Memphis Police Department.

“Just growing up here, this is not really new to us. It’s new to us being on this magnitude, but this is an issue we’re tired of seeing,” said protester George Brooks, 44, outside one of the city’s police stations where more than 200 people had amassed. “We’re used to having issues with police in this city.”

Body camera video of Nichols being savagely beaten by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7 was released Friday night, igniting protests across the U.S. Nichols died three days after the beating.

Five police officers were fired from the department and face charges of second-degree murder. City officials on Saturday announced the disbanding of the tactical unit Scorpion, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, from those officers deployed.

Memphis' anguish and anger were expressed at mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country Saturday, including in Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Memphis protest organizer Hunter Demster said city officials have met some of the protesters’ demands, such as announcing the disbanding of the Scorpion unit.

The high-profile anti-violence unit launched in November 2021 when the city’s murder rate was soaring and the community was calling for action.

“In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignment, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit,” the department said in a statement Saturday.

Demster said the decision was great, but not good enough, insisting that the department’s gang and crime task force also need to be deactivated.

“Long-term goals, we’re gonna have sustained action shutting down commerce and roads until actual policy is passed,” he said. “If a group is coming to the civic center for a function, we’re going to shut it down. If the president of the United States is driving down the street, that’s the street we’re gonna shut down.”

Demster also said he wanted people to stop being killed at the hands of police, in addition to massive police reform.

Many attending the demonstration said they were fed up with an unjust and aggressive police force with a long, local history of corruption.

Memphis demonstrator Joshua Lewis, 18, said he wasn’t surprised by the actions of the officers who were caught on camera beating Nichols.

“It angered me to see the video of Tyre, but this is normal (in Memphis) and I feel that it’s time for a change. We’ve been trying to change it for years,” he said, adding that it starts with the police and ends with city hall.

“The corruption of the Memphis police and the death of Tyre Nichols, we’re just tired altogether. We need answers, because after watching the video, I have more questions,” said demonstrator Rachel Spriggs, 38.