Tyre Nichols video shows effects of ‘unjust system,’ even in Fresno


(Lucy Garrett/Getty Images/TNS)

A photograph of Tyre Nichols holding his child sits in the foyer of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee.

By Jiselle Cardenas, News Editor


On Jan. 27, the nation held its breath with the release of body camera footage that showed six Memphis police officers beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. The footage continued the national movement against police brutality.


Protests have sparked across the country surrounding the video of Nichols and his fatal encounter with law enforcement.


The Fresno State community reacted to the video and shared their thoughts; with some addressing similar problems of policing at Fresno. 


Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval released a statement to The Collegian regarding Nichols’ case.


This egregious violation of the public trust has reopened a longstanding, deep-seated wound within our nation,” Jiménez-Sandoval said in the statement. “As we collectively grieve Mr. Nichols’ senseless death, we must work to achieve social justice and equitable policing across our communities.”


Jiménez-Sandoval said the Nichols’ case forces everyone to reflect on current social structures and more education. 


“I am truly heartbroken over the horrific beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers and Mr. Nichols’ untimely death. Mr. Nichols was  a man of many talents, with a lifetime of promise, who was beloved by his family and community,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “The pain of this tragedy illuminates the need for critical self-reflection and inclusive education as we work to build a society that more fully enacts the values we espouse.”


D’Aungillique Jackson, program coordinator for the Division of Equity and Engagement department, gave a statement to The Collegian as well. She describes how every American is impacted, particularly the African-American community.


“In honor of the unfulfilled life he lived and his family, every institution and person in this country should contribute to correcting the clear issues of police brutality and unjust policies that allowed this to happen. The African-American community has yet again suffered a tragic loss as a result of a historically unjust system. As a country, we have acknowledged that this problem exists, but we must begin to identify systems of transformative change,” Jackson said. 


Jackson said she will continue to do her part for social justice in her new role as program coordinator; keeping the legacy of Nichols alive and being a vessel for change.


“The conversations currently being held by faculty, staff and students surrounding the life of Tyre Nichols have created safe spaces for our community. We must continue to create these spaces and prepare the next generation of leaders to confront these systemic challenges,” Jackson added regarding campus life. “By doing so, we can empower so many to re-imagine a country that is safe and inclusive for all of its citizens.”


Matthew Jendian, Fresno State professor and director of humantics, addressed his discontent with the footage and abuse of power. 


“Learning of yet another Black person dying following a traffic stop has many members of the African-American communities in Fresno and beyond angry with the slow pace of change,” said Jendian. 


Jendian mentioned names of other victims of fatal police brutality incidents including Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Daunte Wright.


He said that research shows black drivers are more likely to be stopped for minor violations by law enforcement which often have no correlation with improving road safety or prevention of dangerous driving.


Jendian noted how Fresno is not exempt from police altercations with citizens. 


A 2021 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California recorded multiple cases of Fresno officers using lethal force and disproportionately targeting minorities.


Fresno had 99 officer-involved shootings from 2006-2016, according to the report. 


“The Fresno Police Department’s disproportionately high number of officer-involved shootings, in which the victims overwhelmingly come from low-income Black and Hispanic communities, has contributed to strong negative perceptions of the department and its officers,” the report stated.


In between 2011 and 2016, Black and Hispanic demographics accounted for 80% of officer-involved shooting victims. The 2022 US Census Bureau reported that Fresno’s population is 50% Hispanic/Latino and 6.8% Black/African American. 


Within the past year, the Fresno Police Department has fired six officers, five officers resigned due to being disciplined, two retired, 28 were suspended, 12 got letters of reprimand and four signed “last chance agreements” in light of 58 disciplinary actions issued after the Fresno’s Office of Independent Review, reported The Fresno Bee.


These disciplinary actions are due to a compilation of wrongful shootings, discourteous conduct unbecoming of a police officer, and administrative or performance misconduct.


“While I, too, am angry, it’s not the same for me as it is for my African-American colleagues, friends, and students who can literally see themselves in Tyre’s shoes. In fact, some of them have been in his shoes and have experienced police harassment but have lived to see another day,” Jendian added.


Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer reacted to the bodycam footage and released a video on his personal Twitter account


“I am shocked as a human being and as a mayor of this city. Having spent 40 years in law enforcement, I know how difficult the job of a police officer is and the dangers involved,” Dyer said. “However, there is absolutely no room in the law enforcement profession for these types of egregious acts to take place.”  


He agreed with the Memphis police chief and district attorney’s decisions to terminate and charge the officers. Residents have also pointed out the mayor’s past hypocrisies in former statements he has made, undermining the claims of police brutality.

People march on State Street in Chicago’s Loop on Jan. 30, 2023, to protest the killing of Tyre Nichols. Nichols died after he was beaten on Jan. 7 by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

What happened on Jan. 7 to now?


On Jan. 7, Nichols drove home to his mother’s house for his lunch break. But instead of making it home, he was beaten to the ground and can be heard crying out for his mother in the bodycam footage.


Nichols was driving around 7 p.m. when he was pulled over by former officer Emmitt Martin III for “driving recklessly at a high rate of speed,” according to the Memphis Police Department report


Bodycam and street footage that accumulates to approximately an hour and seven minutes, shows the true events of what happened that night. 


In the footage, the initial traffic stop was escalated by police officers who approached the vehicle with their guns drawn, yelling at Nichols. Officers proceeded to open the door and drag him out of the vehicle.


Following this, the five officers surrounded Nichols as he fell to the ground and told them that he didn’t do anything. The five officers continue to pepper spray, hit and restrain him, while another one shoots him with a stun gun.


“I’m just trying to go home,” Nichols said to the officers.


When Nichols is shot with the stun gun, he gets up and attempts to run away. 


Eight minutes of pursuit through the suburbs of Memphis passed until Nichols was caught just a 100 yards from his mother’s home. This is when more violence ensued and the policemen began beating Nichols. 


The footage shows officers severely kneeing, kicking, punching and hitting him with an extendable baton, with a lot of the blows striking his head. 


Unable to defend himself, he can be heard calling out “Mom” multiple times.


Nichols then fell to the pavement and was left handcuffed and unconscious against a police vehicle as more officers arrived moments later. 


Nichols did not receive immediate medical attention. Two emergency medical technicians were suspended for not providing medical care for 19 minutes after arriving at the scene, reported The New York Times.


Three days following the incident, Nichols passed away on Jan. 10 due to the severity of his injuries.


Preliminary findings released by the family’s lawyers reported that the family did an independent autopsy for Nichols and it was found that Nichols suffered excessive bleeding caused by severe beating.


An analysis of the videos done by The New York Times, reported at least 71 commands were yelled during the 13-minute period of the beating. The officers kept escalating their force regardless of whether or not Nichols complied. A lot of the orders were contradictory and Nichols was incapable of complying. 


Five police officers have been held accountable for the death of Tyre Nichols since: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. 


On Jan. 8, the day after the incident, seven officers were released on leave, including the five involved in the beating and Preston Hemphill, who shot Nichols with a stun gun. 


Public criticism was also voiced after Hemphill’s, a white officer, name was not released until days after the five Black police officers were named.


Since then, some have questioned why the only white officer involved was shielded with protection from law enforcement. Ben Crump, civil rights lawyer who represented George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s case, now represents Nichols’ family and responded to this criticism.  


“Certainly begs the question why a white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye and, to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability,” Crump said.


The seventh officer, who was placed on leave, still remains unnamed and no details have been released about the officer’s involvement. 


All six of the named officers involved were a part of the Scorpion Unit, a task force created by Memphis to minimize crime in the city. 


Scorpion officers normally operated in unmarked vehicles, had authority to make traffic stops, seized weapons and conducted hundreds of arrests. The unit would patrol mainly communities of impoverished residents and people of color, residents told The New York Times


On Jan. 20, the Memphis Police Department announced that the five officers were fired. The department’s internal investigation found that the officers used excessive force and failed to intervene and provide help. 


The five officers have since been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. The case is being treated in a manner that regardless if a defendant did not strike a blow that, on its own, would not have been fatal, was charged with second-degree murder. 


As for Hemphill, he has not been fired nor charged. He is cooperating with officials and is currently relieved of duty.


On Jan. 26, President Joe Biden called on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to his desk. When they did not send the bill, Biden signed an executive order for it. The act includes stricter use of force standards, accountability provisions pertaining to law enforcement and measures to strengthen the accountability held at local and state levels.


“The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged. Those who seek justice should not to resort to violence or destruction,” Biden said in a statement after the video was released. “Violence is never acceptable; it is illegal and destructive. I join Mr. Nichols’ family in calling for peaceful protest.”


The day after, the Memphis department disbanded the Scorpion Unit.


In a statement, the Memphis Police Department mentioned that “heinous actions of a few” have casted dishonor over the unit.


“It is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted,” said Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, Police Director of Memphis.


Nichols was a FedEx employee, an avid skateboarder and a father to a 4-year-old. 


The investigation is still ongoing, two more unnamed police officers have been taken off duty. Two sheriff deputies have been taken off duty as well, pending more inquiry findings from a separate investigation by The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. 


The Memphis Fire Department also has fired three employees for failing to follow protocols which include, not properly assessing Nichols’s condition while he was slouched over on the ground next to the vehicle.