MEMPHIS (AFP) – The United States (US) city of Memphis on Saturday disbanded the special police unit whose officers fatally beat a young Black man, after graphic video of the assault sparked widespread shock and outrage.
The video shows five officers repeatedly kicking and punching 29-year-old Tyre Nichols as he moans and calls out for his mother.
The southern US city on Saturday announced it had deactivated the officers’ special unit, known as Scorpion, which was launched in 2021 to reduce illegal activity by assigning more police to high-crime areas.
The Memphis Police Department said it was “in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit”, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighbourhoods.
“The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step,” the department added.
Several dozen demonstrators called for police reform on Saturday afternoon as they gathered in the chilly rain in front of city hall shouting “No justice, no peace!” and carrying signs with slogans such as “Justice for Tyre Nichols”.
The five Memphis officers, who are all Black, were charged with second-degree murder in the beating of Nichols, who died in hospital on January 10 three days after being stopped on suspicion of reckless driving.
The lengthy video footage from police body cameras released on Friday evening shows the group of officers detaining Nichols, attempting to take him down using a Taser, then giving chase as he evades them. Subsequent segments – the footage runs about an hour in total, and is audio-only in parts – show Nichols calling for his mother, and groaning as officers repeatedly assault him.
Even after the release of the video, some key questions remained unanswered, mainly what caused Nichols to be stopped. Family attorney Benjamin Crump accused the police of trying to cover up their actions and insisted Nichols did not violate traffic rules or reach for the officers’ guns, as police say.
Nichols’ family called the disbanding of the Scorpion unit an “appropriate and proportional” response.
“We must keep in mind that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as clearly this misconduct is not restricted to these specialty units,” a statement from the family’s attorneys said on Saturday.
In addition to second-degree murder charges, the police officers are facing indictments for aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.