“What did I do?”
That’s what Tyre D. Nichols is heard saying on video that shows the savage beating he took from Memphis Police Department officers on Jan. 7, said Benjamin Crump, the attorney that Nichols’ family hired as they seek justice for his death three days later.
“That was his question,” said Crump, who opened a press conference/rally for Nichols at Mount Olive Cathedral C.M.E. Church at 538 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. on Monday afternoon. The gathering followed soon after viewing video footage at Memphis City Hall.
Specifically assuring community activists that “we will see what they did to Tyre,” Crump said the Nichols’ family had received assurances from the office of the Shelby County District Attorney and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation “that all the video they got” would be released within one to two weeks.
“They just want to make sure that they can give this family what they want most and that is justice.”
Five Memphis Police Department officers were fired on Friday for their part in what Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said was “the tragic death of Mr. Tyre Nichols.” Fired were now-former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith.
“What we can tell you about the video is that it is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous … violent, it is very troublesome on every level,” said Crump, adding that again there is evidence of “what happens to Black and brown people for simple traffic stops. You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop.
“We have to say to America that however you would treat our white brothers and sisters when you have a traffic stop with them, well treat us Black and Brown citizens the same way.”
He acknowledged a commitment to transparency from Mayor Jim Strickland during a meeting that also included MPD Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, “a Black police chief, a Black mother who was very emotional when she talked with Mrs. Wells. She said I’m not offering my response as a chief, I’m offering them as a mother whose got Black children.
“She had tears in her eyes just like Mrs. Wells. She said she was not proud of what we were about to see on that video. She said she was proud of many things that law enforcement did in the community, trying to protect the community, serve the community … but not proud of what we were about to see.”
Crump said he has been asked for his response to the fact that all five fired officers are African Americans.
“This is very simple,” he said, drawing upon what he has learned in pursuing litigation against “excessive-force policing. … It’s that it is not the race of the police officer that is the determinable factor of the amount of excessive force that would be exerted. It is the race of the citizen.
“We have to have accountability no matter who tramples on the constitutional rights of our citizens. It is so regrettable that they can’t think of Tyre as their brother because you want to believe that if you thought of him as your brother you wouldn’t have did this to Tyre.”
Crump said the beating of Nichols was reminiscent of the video of the beating of Rodney King in LA decades ago.
“Regrettably and unlike Rodney King, Tyre did not survive.”
Memphis attorney Van Turner Jr., president of the Memphis Branch NAACP, noted that the church had been the setting when Crump was in Memphis to assist the family of Alvin Motley Jr., an unarmed African-American man killed by a security guard at a fueling station.
Turner brought to mind local eight-can’t-wait law enforcement commitments involving policy changes.
“We have to make sure that when we say no chokeholds, when we say render aid, when we say de-escalation, it has to be followed.”
Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, started his remarks with a request.
“If there are any protests, we would like for them to be peaceful,” he said, adding that anything other “is not what Tyre wanted and that’s not going to bring him back.”
He described what he saw on the video footage as “horrific. No father, no mother should have to witness what I saw today.”
Wells described his son as a “great, great kid” who, among other things, loved taking photos of the sun setting.
“He didn’t deserve what he got. Now what he deserves is justice. The family and the attorneys that we have will not stop until we get justice. And as I said from day one, justice for us is murder one!”
During the Q&A at the end, a community activists asked Crump for “concrete evidence” that the commitment to release the video footage to the public would be honored.
“They said one week, no more than two weeks,” Crump responded. “They promised the family that. The family said they would give them that time if they made sure they did a thorough investigation where they would be held accountable. So the family wants justice. They don’t want them to come up with some technicality….
“Now, if they don’t have it two weeks brother, ya’ll do what ya’ll go to do!”