The first thing the video captures Tyre Nichols saying to police are four simple words: “I didn’t do anything.”
It didn’t matter. In minutes, police yanked him from his car, threw him to the ground, attempted to Tase him, and threatened to knock him out. They gave him nonsensical commands, the journalist Wesley Lowery noted, yelling at him to lie on the ground when he was already there. “I’m just trying to get home,” Nichols said.
When Nichols escaped and ran away, more officers chased him down, tackled him and then proceeded to kick him in the head, punch him in the face, and hit him with a baton. As he struggled to sit up, officers and medical personnel stood around, declining to give him any kind of medical attention.
Even after being warned for days that the video of Nichols was gruesome, the images released on Friday evening were horrifying. “It’s as bad as it was described,” Charles Ramsey, the former Philadelphia commissioner, said on CNN shortly after the videos aired live on the network.
03:28 Tyre Nichols: Memphis police release footage of deadly traffic stop – video
An audio-less bird’s-eye view of a police camera on a lightpole provided the fullest, and most gruesome, angle of the incident. It showed how Nichols, 29, was swarmed by police and helpless as he was brutally beaten by them – images that will be forever seared into the American conscience.
The videos show “how gruesome it is, how appalling it is”, Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney who is representing Nichols’s family, said on CNN on Friday. But they also show “how unnecessary this was. That Tyre Nichols was killed in this manner.”
“They did not know the character of the person who they were brutalizing. They did not know that he was such an outstanding citizen,” Rodney Wells, Nichols’s stepfather, told ABC. “I guess they always are dealing with criminals or whatever. But they did not know that Tyre had such a beloved following, so to speak.”
Joe Biden was also swift in condemning the video on Friday and called for peaceful protest. “Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’s death,” he said in a statement. “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.”
“Tyre Nichols should have made it home to his family,” Vice-President Kamala Harris said in a statement. “The footage and images released tonight will forever be seared in our memories, and they open wounds that will never fully heal.” She also called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform bill for which there was once a glimmer of bipartisan support that has now faded.
The decision to release the video on Friday was itself significant. In other police brutality cases, prosecutors and police departments will often stonewall the release of video that shows police in a bad light. Charges against officers, if they come at all, can take a long time. In Memphis, the city released the video 20 days after the incident, fired the five police officers involved, and has already charged them with murder.
“This is now the blueprint for all these other police forces around the country,” Crump said on CNN. “Now, they can’t tell us it takes this long to investigate. When those five Black officers in Memphis, Tennessee, were caught killing Tyre Nichols, they moved swiftly.”