ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The U.S. recoiled Friday upon witnessing the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols, who died in a hospital after a group of Memphis police officers pulled him from a car to pin down, hold up, punch, kick, tase, baton and pepper spray the 29-year-old father in a ruthless assault being likened to the 1991 beating of Rodney King.
Reaction, too, is being heard across Central Florida, where local leaders from political to law enforcement professions have issued statements denouncing the Tennessee officers’ deadly actions and offering sympathies to Nichols’ family, friends and loved ones.
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“I am devastated and outraged by the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis Police officers. They are a disgrace to our noble profession. I’m glad swift action was taken to terminate them and that they face murder charges for those heinous acts,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said in a statement. “I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the family of Mr. Nichols. When these types of horrific incidents occur — no matter where they happen — they undermine the public trust in law enforcement.”
[Warning: The videos are extremely graphic. Viewer discretion is advised]
Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after calling out for his mother and attempting to talk his way out of the confrontation which would ultimately prove fatal.
“My honest feelings right now. I’ve been a cop for 35 years & probably never seen a police video more reprehensible than this. The Memphis footage made me want to throw up. The same disgust and disbelief I felt watching George Floyd, I felt it all over again watching Tyre Nichols,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said in a statement, adding in part “the sanctity of human life comes first.”
The five officers seen beating Nichols — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were since fired and taken into custody, each facing charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression as of Thursday. Four of them were out on bond by Friday morning, jail records show. By Friday night, all five were out.
At an NAACP news conference Saturday, held to combat Florida’s “flippant decision to reject (the) AP course on African American Studies and (the) Florida DOE’s reprehensive whitesplaining of Black history and culture,” NAACP Chairman of the Board Leon W. Russell opened the event with a moment of silence in Nichols’ honor.
“I know that many of us can’t help but feel the presence of that dark cloud that’s hovering over our nation this morning,” Russell said. “Last night, many of you had an opportunity to view the video of the unspeakable and distinctly inhumane beating that ultimately led to the death of Tyre Nichols, so before I continue with our purpose this morning, I want to take a moment of silence in honor of Tyre and the countless Black lives we’ve lost at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve.”
Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said in a statement that the actions of the five Memphis officers are inexcusable and do not reflect the majority of law enforcement officers’ actions or intent.
“Our hearts go out to the family of Tyre Nichols and the Memphis community during this tragedy and through this difficult time. It is important to recognize that we can still modernize the policing profession, but events like these diminish public trust,” Lemma said.
According to Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr., two deputies who were at the scene had been relieved of duty as of Friday evening pending an internal investigation.
“As a Nation, we have all been shocked and appalled by the horrible actions of individuals in Memphis. Situations like this destroy the great work we do in order to create a partnership between police and community. Those individuals participated in unlawful conduct that was criminal, ignored the criminal conduct and failed to provide medical attention,” Sanford police Chief Cecil Smith said in a statement.
Regarding the five police officers, a second-degree murder charge can lead to a sentence of 15 to 60 years in a Tennessee prison.
“We extend our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Tyre Nichols, and the entire Memphis community,” Kissimmee police Chief Jeff O’Dell said in a statement. “The egregious conduct demonstrated by these former police officers is beyond disturbing, and can never ever be tolerated in our profession.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on Twitter shared a statement by The U.S. Conference of Mayors on Nichols’ death, expressing outrage and urging safety.
“People are right to be angry, and they are right to demand change, however, violence does nothing to advance the cause of justice. We stand with President Biden, Attorney General Garland, FBI Director Wray and leaders throughout the nation urging that any protests be peaceful. America’s mayors pledge to continue their efforts to improve public safety and foster a sense of security in their communities,” the statement reads.
Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith posted a statement through the department’s Twitter account that read in part, “As a nation, we have all been shocked and appalled by the horrible actions of individuals in Memphis. Situations like this destroy the great work we do in order to create a partnership between police and community.”
Message from Chief Cecil Smith: pic.twitter.com/Du9lZoWCdU— SanfordPolice (@SanfordPolice) January 28, 2023
Local state representatives have also spoken out on the torturous footage, such as Maxwel=l Frost, D-District 10, who said his heart breaks for the people who knew and loved Nichols.
“This video makes clear that our system is not working right now. Body cameras and more training are simply not enough. Police officers abused their power on the job and beat an American to death in our streets... We need to change the culture of policing in our country. Violence is not and can never be the answer,” Frost said in a statement.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-District 42, shared a picture of Nichols’ smile and a quote from his mother, RowVaughn Wells.
RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday before the videos were released, "It's still like a nightmare right now."— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) January 28, 2023
"I'm still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this," Wells said. "I don't have my baby. I'll never have my baby again."
Ahead of the video’s release Friday, the nation braced for protests.
President Joe Biden on Friday said he had spoken to Wells on the phone, commenting on her pain in public statements and calling for protests to remain peaceful as more innocent lives were at stake.
“I’m obviously very concerned about it (the violence), but I think she has made a very strong plea. She’s obviously in enormous pain,” Biden said.
Watch the footage provided by the city of Memphis below, or by clicking here.
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