© Reuters. People take part in a protest after the release of a video showing officers beating Tyre Nichols, a young black man who died three days after being pulled over while driving by police officers in Memphis, New York, USA
By Mario Cardona and Diane Bartz
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) – A special police unit that included at least some of the Memphis officers involved in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols was disbanded on Saturday as fresh protests took place in U.S. cities a day after a harrowing video of the attack was released.
In a statement, the police department said it was permanently deactivating the SCORPION unit after the police chief spoke with Nichols’ family members, community leaders and other officials.
Video footage from police body cameras and a pole camera showed Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, repeatedly screaming “Mom!” as officers kicked, punched and clubbed him in his mother’s neighborhood following a Jan. 7 traffic stop. He was hospitalized and died of his injuries three days later.
The five police officers involved in the beating, all black, were indicted Thursday on murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges. All were dismissed from the department.
Nichols’ family and officials expressed anger and sadness, but urged protesters to remain calm. That demand was largely heeded Friday when scattered protests broke out in Memphis — where demonstrators briefly blocked an interstate — and elsewhere.
Protests were renewed in several cities on Saturday. In Memphis, protesters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” shouted a police car following the parade angrily, and several of them made obscene gestures. Some cheered loudly when they found out about the dissolution of SCORPION.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York’s Washington Square Park before marching through downtown Manhattan, flanked by lines of police.
Taken together, the four video clips released Friday show police beating Nichols even though he appeared to pose no threat. The traffic was initially stopped for reckless driving, although the police chief said the cause of the stop has not been proven.
The SCORPION unit, short for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods, was established in October 2021 to focus on crime hotspots. Critics say such specialized teams can be prone to offensive tactics.
Friends and family say Nichols was a kind, talented skateboarder who grew up in Sacramento, California and moved to Memphis before the coronavirus pandemic. The father of a four-year-old, Nichols worked at FedEx (NYSE: ) and recently enrolled in a photography course.
Nate Spates Jr., 42, was part of a circle of friends, including Nichols, who met at a local Starbucks (NASDAQ: ).
“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 the late shift.
Nichols’ death is the latest high-profile example of police using excessive force against blacks and other minorities. The killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes in 2020, has sparked worldwide protests against racial injustice.