Downtown protesters stand together for change

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 28, 2023 10:38 PM CT | Published: January 28, 2023 3:57 PM CT

Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. and others gathered Downtown at the Memphis Police Department headquarters at 170 N. Main St. on Saturday, Jan. 28, the day after video footage of Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter with police officers was released by the city. 

Students join rapper NLE Choppa ‘to skate for Tyre’

“When I first saw the video, all I could do is put my head back,” Smiley said to the crowd in the rain. “Because the unfortunate thing of it all, we know the outcome. We all knew how it played out.

“But what we didn’t know from the police narrative is there weren’t only five officers involved.”

Chants could be heard as the group of about 200 moved east on Adams Avenue, demanding an ordinance for transparency related to police bodycam footage, police force and every policy related to training.

Outside of the Fire Museum of Memphis and former Memphis Police station, the crowd called for the Memphis Fire Department to be held responsible for parts played in the death of Tyre Nichols.

The Memphis Fire Department confirmed two personnel involved in Nichols’ care were relieved of duty pending an internal investigation, which is due to be completed early next week.

Fire department wrapping up internal inquiry into Nichols’ death

As the crowd marched down Adams Avenue chanting “our street,” 16-year-old Crosstown High School sophomore Carolina Calvo said the shocking nature of the Nichols video made her attend the protest.

“I watched the video with my mom, and I actually started crying because it was so awful,” Calvo said. “I don’t think violence is the answer for any problems, and there needs to be more police training on things like this. I don’t want to ever see it happen again.

“Cops should be for safety, not actually hurting other people.”

In the middle of the intersection at B.B. King Boulevard and Poplar Avenue, 15-year-old Alleia Bakker observed from the sidelines as the crowd chanted “Tyre Nichols!” in unison.

“I’m horrified at what happened,” Bakker said. “I didn’t watch the video because I didn’t want to become desensitized to things like this.”

Video of brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols released

Bakker added she feels all police forces should reassess how to serve and protect the public.

“It’s not an individual or group of people doing this,” Bakker said. “It’s more of a systematic problem of teaching people to take your anger, fear and frustration out on others, and then abuse your power.”

Around 3:40 p.m., the crowd, which had grown to 300 people, headed toward Front Street.

MPD’s SCORPION unit permanently deactivated

Having heard news of the disbandment of MPD’s SCORPION unit, the crowd began clapping and ordered for the end of all similar units.

“The unit that murdered Tyre has been permanently disbanded,” said Paula Buress, community activist. “I’m sure his mother is proud of that. That’s a start, but we’re not done. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Smiley said of the SCORPION disbandment: “It was essential, but also necessary as it relates we were going with policing. My concern going forward as that we’re not doing anything just on a surface level because we can disband the unit, but the police department still has the authority to create other units and name it something else like ‘Spider.’ It’s not just disbanding the unit, it’s making sure we’re not creating other units that have a lack of supervision and that are going into communities to terrorize people.”

SCORPION reminiscent of Atlanta unit once led by Memphis chief

Other local officials, including Councilman Martavius Jones and Shelby County Commissioner Brittney Thornton, appeared at the rally as it was wrapping up.

“Davis has done her job, Mulroy has done his job,” Jones said. “It’s our job now. I want y’all to bug us all until we get an ordinance passed.”

Thornton said she knew some of the organizers and was pleased to see the community coming together to demand change.

“It’s important for us to channel our emotions into actions,” Thornton said. “I respect the methods they’re using to effectuate change. So I came here to figure out what piece of the pie is in my wheelhouse and just let people know that we’re working together.”

I Am A Man Plaza

A handful of people gathered at the I Am A Man Plaza near the FedExForum around 3 p.m. Saturday.

As those there shielded themselves from the rain in the small park, a passerby in a truck rolled down the window to shout grievances over Tyre Nichols’ death.

“That was a murder. He was my friend.”

The event actually started when Devante Hill, community organizer, arrived around 3:30 p.m., with a chant from the crowd.

“No justice. No peace”

Hill spoke to the uniqueness of Memphis in how citizens and the police have responded to Nichols death. “Memphis is going to be the catalyst for change,” he said.

He also called for accountability at MFD

Speaking about the EMTs that were put on leave pending an investigation into their response, Hill said, “I don’t why he didn’t received the care he needed.”

When news broke around 3:40 p.m., that MPD’s SCORPION unit was permanently deactivated, he said crime, especially in Memphis, doesn’t just pop up. It comes from a lack of opportunity and poverty issues.

Beale Street

Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Young spoke at Handy Park, calling for action. Young said, “the question for our city is: what are we going to next?”

Young told The Daily Memphian he was pleased with the way the Downtown protests have been carried out. “I’m proud this has been peaceful. That’s how Memphis responds,” he said. Young also commented on Strickland’s response to the tragedy and what needs to happen next. “I applaud the administration’s response. I think it’s the blueprint for how the movement is going,” he said. But he added that it will take many months and conversations to make the meaningful change for which people are calling.

Daily Memphian reporters Julia Baker, Alicia Davidson, Aarron Fleming and Neil Strebig contributed to this story. 

Photo gallery: Memphis responds to Tyre Nichols video



Tyre Nichols JB Smiley Jr. Paul Young


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