Demonstrators gather during a protest over the death of Tyre Nichols, Jan. 27, 2023, in Atlanta.
Police in the southern U.S. city of Memphis, Tennessee, released a video Friday evening showing five police officers beating to death Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, following a traffic stop.
The graphic video shows the officers brutally beating Nichols for three minutes. Two officers can be seen holding Nichols down while others kick and punch him. At least one officer uses a baton.
In one clip of the video footage, which runs over an hour and is taken from multiple cameras, Nichols can be heard crying out for his mother.
Memphis and other U.S. cities have been preparing for possible protests after police announced they would release the police bodycam and surveillance video of the beating. Nichols’ family has pleaded for any protests to remain peaceful.
Protests took place in Memphis on Friday night, with several dozen demonstrators blocking a heavily traveled bridge on Interstate 55. Demonstrators also gathered for rallies in Washington, Atlanta and New York. There were no immediate reports of violence.
The attack on Nichols took place earlier this month after police in Memphis stopped him for alleged reckless driving. Nichols died from his injuries three days later.
The officers, all of whom are Black, were charged Thursday with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. All the officers have been fired.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, President Joe Biden said he was “very concerned” about the possibly of violence after the video’s release. He said he spoke with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day and said he would urge Congress to pass legislation to counter police violence.
In a statement, Biden said he was “outraged” and “deeply pained” after watching the video.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, pleaded Thursday for protesters to be peaceful.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said.
During a news conference Friday at a Memphis church, Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said the family was very satisfied with the legal process so far, and he urged people, if they needed to protest, to do so peacefully.
Raymond Washington speaks during a protest over the death of Tyre Nichols, Jan. 27, 2023, in Atlanta.
“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance. We want peaceful protest,” he said. “The family is very satisfied with the process, with the police chief, with the D.A.”
Also speaking at the news conference, lawyers for the family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, applauded the district attorney for the swiftness with which the charges were brought against the officers.
Romanucci said the officers were members of a “SCORPION” unit – an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. He said such units are known as “suppression” units and claimed they act with impunity and are more likely to use force than other members of a police force.
He called on the Memphis Police Department to disband them immediately.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, a professional organization of police executives representing the largest cities in the United States and Canada, said in a statement “the death of Tyre Nichols is deeply disturbing and the video footage is painful to see.”
The group said the police officers who carried out the attack behaved in a way that was “inhumane and indefensible” and it praised Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis for quickly firing the officers.
Federal law enforcement officials said they were prepared for any unrest.
Speaking at a news conference Friday in Washington, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau has alerted all of its field offices around the country to work with state and local law enforcement “in the event of something getting out of hand.”
Wray said he had seen the video of Tyre’s beating and had been appalled by its content.
“I’m struggling to find a stronger word, but I’d just say I was appalled,” Wray said.
Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland joined calls by other officials that any protests against police be peaceful.
“I do want to say, and I want to repeat what the family has said, that expressions of concern when people see this video, we urge that they be peaceful and nonviolent,” Garland said at the press conference. “That’s what the family has urged, and that of course is what the Justice Department urges as well.”
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the case.
VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.