Memphis disbands police unit after fatal beating as protesters take to streets

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan 28 (Reuters) – The specialized police unit that included the five Memphis officers accused in the fatal beating of Tire Nichols was disbanded on Saturday as more protests broke out in U.S. cities a day after viral video of the attack that was there. released.

The police department said in a statement that the SCORPION unit was being permanently deactivated after the police chief spoke with members of the Nichols family, community leaders and other officials. A police spokesman confirmed that all five officers were members of the unit.

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!” and officers kicking, punching and batting 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 All Black beating were charged Thursday with murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges. They were all fired from the department.

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Nichols’ family and officials expressed anger and sadness but urged protesters to remain peaceful. That request was largely ignored Friday as scattered protests erupted in Memphis — where marchers briefly blocked an interstate highway — and elsewhere.

Cities across the United States saw renewed non-violent demonstrations on Saturday. In Memphis, protesters chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” he shouted angrily at a police car that was monitoring the procession, while some people were making obscene gestures. Some were delighted when they found out about SCORPION’s retirement.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York’s Washington Square Park before marching through Manhattan, flanked by columns of police officers.

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Together, the four video clips released Friday showed the police pressuring Nichols even though he appeared to pose no threat. The initial traffic stop was for reckless driving, although the police chief has said the stop is unfounded.

The SCORPION unit, short for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighbourhoods, was established in October 2021 to target areas that are popular with crime. Critics say such specialized teams can be prone to offensive tactics.

Friends and family say Nichols is a gifted, talented skateboarder who grew up in Sacramento, California, and moved to Memphis before the coronavirus pandemic. The father of a 4-year-old, 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 at a Starbucks in the area.

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“He liked what he liked, and he marched to the beat of his own drum,” Spates said, recalling 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 case 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 held his neck for more than nine minutes, sparked protests around the world about racial injustice.

Reporting by Maria Cardona in Memphis, Tennessee, and Diane Bartz in Washington; Joseph Ax wrote; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Diane Bartz

Thomson Reuters

Focused on US antitrust as well as corporate regulation and legislation, with experience covering war in Bosnia, elections in Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as stories from Brazil, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Nigeria and Peru.


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