Memphis disbands police unit in fatal beating; more protests expected

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

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

The release of the footage on Friday sparked protests in Memphis and elsewhere and prompted many cities to prepare for additional demonstrations on Saturday.

Nichols’ family and officials, including President Joe Biden, expressed anger and sorrow but urged protesters to remain peaceful. The demonstrations have so far been free of violence.

Five officers involved in the beating, all Black, were charged on Thursday with murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges. They were all fired from the department.

In Memphis on Saturday, protesters chanted, “Whose street? Our streets!” angry catcall a police car that was monitoring the walk, with several making obscene gestures. Some rejoiced greatly when they found out about the dissolution of SCORPION.

The unit, our Operation Street Crimes to Restore Peace in Neighbourhoods, was formed in October 2021 to concentrate on crime hotspots. Critics say such specialized teams can be prone to abusive tactics.

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

Friends and family say Nichols was an affable and talented skateboarder who grew up in Sacramento, California, and moved to Memphis before the coronavirus pandemic. The father of a 4-year-old son, 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 local Starbucks.

“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 shift. late

Nichols’ death is the latest high-profile example of police using excessive force against Black people and other minorities. The 2020 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, galvanized protests around the world about racial injustice.

(Reporting by Maria Cardona in Memphis, Tennessee, and Diane Bartz in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

By Maria Cardona and Diane Bartz

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