Americans once again protested after another recorded instance of police brutality.
Memphis police officers held down Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, and took turns punching and kicking him as he pleaded for them to stop, according to video footage released by officials yesterday. Nichols died in the hospital three days after the Jan. 7 traffic stop.
The videos are grim and at times difficult to watch, but what they show is important. Today’s newsletter will focus on what we know and don’t know about the beating and the reaction from the public and officials.
The videos: The confrontation began while Nichols was still in his car, based on footage from a surveillance camera and those worn by police officers. Almost immediately, officers yelled at Nichols to get out of the vehicle, using expletives. They then forcefully pulled Nichols out and held him down.
Nichols appeared to cooperate, telling the officers, “I’m just trying to go home.” Although he showed no signs of resistance, they continued to yell at and threaten him. As he lay on the ground, officers pepper-sprayed him. Nichols then fled, and officers pursued him. “I hope they stomp his ass,” one officer who remained behind said.
The officers caught Nichols and then held him down as they punched and kicked him, hit him with a baton and pepper-sprayed him while he grew increasingly incapacitated. He did not appear to fight back or resist. He yelled for his mother at one point.
Afterward, Nichols sat propped up against a car as police officers surrounded him. Medics arrived on the scene, but they did not attend to Nichols for 16 minutes. He was taken to the hospital nearly an hour after the initial traffic stop. (Here’s a timeline of the encounter.)
What we don’t know: The videos do not show why Nichols was first stopped. Later, within minutes of the beating, officers said on video that Nichols had grabbed for their firearms, with one saying Nichols “had his hand on my gun.” If he did, it did not appear on the recordings.
The officers have also said that they had stopped Nichols on suspicion of reckless driving, but in an interview with NBC News, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said her department has been unable to find evidence for why he was stopped.
The reaction: Memphis, a predominantly Black city with a history of Black police chiefs, had largely avoided the national spotlight amid protests over police misconduct. Nichols’s killing changed that. Last night, protesters blocked a bridge linking the city to Arkansas and an interstate highway, trying to stop traffic.
Demonstrators in cities across the country expressed sorrow, anger and exhaustion at watching the video images of Nichols. The protests remained largely nonviolent, though the police in New York City did detain three protesters and a demonstrator smashed the windshield of police cruiser.
The charges: Before the video’s release, the five officers involved in the beating, who are all Black, were indicted on charges of second-degree murder, kidnapping and other crimes. “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” a lawyer for one of the officers said. All five posted bail and have been released from jail.
The officers have been fired from the Memphis Police Department. They had served in a specialized unit, called Scorpion, which stands for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods” and was formed to crack down on serious crimes. The unit has been inactive since the traffic stop that killed Nichols, Mayor Jim Strickland said.
Two county sheriff’s deputies who were on the scene after the beating were also relieved of duty pending an investigation.
Policing overhauls: Nichols’s family has called for changes to the Memphis police force and for the department to disband the Scorpion unit. From 2016 to 2022, police used force against Black residents nearly three times more frequently that against white residents, according to city data.
After the 2020 demonstrations over George Floyd’s murder, state and local officials around the country implemented changes including bans on chokeholds, restrictions on the use of force and requirements that officers wear cameras. But activists argue that the steps have fallen short of holding the police accountable and have failed to prevent unnecessary violence.
What’s next: Protesters planned more demonstrations today in Memphis.
Americans abandoned the issue of police reform and should be ashamed, Charles M. Blow writes.
It’s not especially surprising that the five officers indicted in Nichols’s death are Black, the journalist Wesley Lowery tweeted. “In tracking police violence, we never found that race of the officer made much difference.”
Automated speed cameras, license-plate readers and other technology can better and more safely enforce traffic laws than the police, Sarah Seo of Columbia Law School has written for Times Opinion.
Officials made public roughly an hour of footage that included critical moments in which officers attacked Nichols while he screamed in anguish.
“He was chill. He was peaceful.” He was also wary of the police: Loved ones recalled Nichols, who had a passion for skateboarding.
Experts in police training said they could find no justification for the actions of the Memphis officers.
Officers regularly kill unarmed motorists with impunity, a 2021 Times investigation of traffic stops found. In response, some cities have moved to overhaul traffic policing.
From camcorder video of Rodney King’s beating to cellphone footage of George Floyd’s murder, visual evidence of police violence has often galvanized public opinion.
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THE WEEK IN CULTURE
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Gucci named its new creative director today: Sabato De Sarno from Valentino.
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The pianist Yuja Wang will play a three-and-a-half-hour Rachmaninoff marathon at Carnegie Hall tonight, a challenge likened to climbing Mount Everest.
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📺 “Dear Edward” (Friday): This Apple TV+ series based on the best-selling 2020 Ann Napolitano novel tells the story of the sole survivor of a passenger jet crash — an adolescent boy — and those left behind by the tragedy. Jason Katims, the showrunner of “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood,” is behind this series, and he knows from grief, misfortune and hope.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Slow Cooker Spinach-Artichoke Chicken Stew
If you adore spinach-artichoke dip but feel that eating an entire bowl for dinner is just somehow wrong, Sarah DiGregorio has an excellent solution. She turned those same flavors into a creamy, winy sauce for braised chicken, simmered in a slow cooker. Stirring some cream cheese into the pot makes this very velvety, but you can leave it out for a lighter, brothier dish. In either case, the tanginess of marinated artichokes and a handful of chopped, fresh dill add brightness and verve. Serve this with pita bread — or even chips — for a meal that’s almost a party unto itself.
A selection of New York Times recipes is available to all readers. Please consider a Cooking subscription for full access.
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ADVICE FROM WIRECUTTER
Cozy up with board games
If Monopoly is the only thing that springs to mind when you think about board games, you may be surprised to know that tabletop games have in recent years become innovative expressions of story and mechanics. With thousands of games released every year, knowing where to start can be intimidating. Wirecutter has tested games for years and has picks for all sorts of situations or experience levels, for beginners and for strategic players who prefer an intense, hourslong experience. — James Austin
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Australian Open men’s final: Last year, the Australian government expelled Djokovic from the country because he was unvaccinated, a public fiasco that caused him to miss the Grand Slam. This year, he has settled in nicely, losing just one set on his way to the finals. Djokovic has won this tournament nine times, more than any other man. Tsitsipas, a fan favorite in Australia, has reached just one Grand Slam final before — the 2021 French Open, which he lost to Djokovic. 3 a.m. Eastern tomorrow on ESPN, with an encore airing at 9 a.m. on ESPN2.
Related: Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus beat Elena Rybakina, representing Kazakhstan, this morning to win the Australian Open women’s singles title.
NOW TIME TO PLAY
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Lauren Hard, Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at email@example.com.