If someone was late to the scene, you may not have seen them there, bloodied and beaten.
The cops seem nonchalant and don’t seem to act with urgency as they wander around this quiet corner, exchanging battle anecdotes, a fist-bumping, and a slap on the back. The group of policemen increases, but apparently everyone agrees that there is nothing to see there. They lace up their boots, worry about their glasses, and complain about sore knees, so someone might not see him there among the phalanx in front of him, among those who are grinning and laughing and going home to except.
Looking past the men who punched, kicked, stunned, sprayed, dragged and now stand with apparent indifference. You have to look down to find the collapsed body. Hands behind his back, without one of his shoes, he writhes helplessly on the pavement. He seems to have stopped yelling, no longer calls for his mother, and his voice has gotten so weak it’s hard to understand what he’s saying.RELATED
“You can’t go anywhere,” replies the policeman crouching in front of him. “You can’t go anywhere.”
In harrowing video from that night in Memphis, all eyes focus on the chaotic moment of brutality that precedes the scene, leaving another black man dead at the hands of police. But along with the assault itself, the video reveals another unbearable reality: minute after minute of police indifference as Tire Nichols lies badly injured, behavior that seems to confirm just how ordinary these types of incidents are.
“The cops who murdered Tire Nichols are not an aberration. They are not an outlier,” tweeted cultural critic Touré. “It’s normal police procedure, it’s just that they usually get away with it.”
The 67 minutes of body camera footage and surveillance video released in the case show a confusing and jumbled picture of the night that led to Nichols’ death and murder charges for five police officers, also black. The images are sometimes dark and the story incomplete, but the video also shows shocking clarity of what happened.
It begins at approximately 8:24 p.m. on Saturday, January 7. It is not clear why the cops stopped Nichols, but for the routine traffic stop they claim it was, the escalation of the conflict seems immediate and incomprehensible.
At least three officers surround Nichols’ blue sedan as he is forcibly removed from the vehicle. At least one of them approaches pointing a firearm. Nichols is heard for the first time speaking, “I didn’t do anything,” and he is pushed to the ground. He agrees by repeating “okay” over and over again as the officers yell and curse.
“Paralyze him! Paralyze him!” a policeman yells.
He has been subdued on the ground, but the cops keep yelling for him to lie down, an order that seems to confuse Nichols who is already lying on his right side. Still, he calmly replies in his slightly shaky voice as he tries to calm them down.
“You guys are doing a lot right now,” Nichols says. “I’m just trying to get home.”
Finally, Nichols seems to get restless as the officers continue to yell for him to lie down.
“I’m on the ground!” he yells back, before suddenly getting up and freeing himself.
It’s only been a minute since the cops opened his car door.
Someone fires a stun gun as Nichols runs off. At least two police officers chase him, but they give up about 15 seconds later. Another cop gasps as he radios for backup and walks back to the street where Nichols’ car is.
Approximately eight minutes later, news arrives that the suspect has been taken into custody.
“I hope he gets his ass kicked,” says one policeman to another. “I hope he gets his ass kicked.”
It is already 8:33 p.m. and the police have gathered at the corner of Castlegate and Bear Creek, about a kilometer (half a mile) from where it all started. Nichols’ capture turns brutal at such speed that it’s hard to comprehend what happened.
In video from an overhead security camera, Nichols is seen lying on the floor. Two policemen subdue him while a third appears to kick him in the head over and over again.
“Breast! Mommy!” she yells.
He is allowed to sit down only for a policeman to use his club to hit him in the back. He staggers again and then receives a series of blows to the face and head. They spray him with pepper spray.
Now it seems that Nichols is unable to stop. Policemen detain him while he receives more blows. Then, after about five minutes of assault, he is dragged not far away, his weak body leaning against a car.
It is 8:38 p.m., 14 minutes after the initial traffic stop. You can’t see her face, but photos from the hospital released afterward show her nose bent at an unnatural angle and her face bloody and bruised, almost unrecognizable.
Nichols’ moans have been silenced and the night’s action is largely over. In its wake is the ever-increasing number of policemen who wander around, chat and, above all, just stand there with such indifference that one would think nothing happened. The paramedics arrive a few minutes later, and yet it seems that no one is treating Nichols.
She was within a minute or two of arriving at the house she shares with her mother, RowVaughn Wells. The voices of the policemen are captured yelling at him: “bitch”, “bastard” and worse insults. His mom knows the truth. He was 29 years old and steeped in the tranquility of California, working at FedEx, an amateur photographer, a skateboarder and an “almost perfect” mommy’s son. He didn’t use drugs, Wells said, he didn’t own firearms. He had gone out to take pictures of the sky and never returned home.
The recording continues for more than 20 minutes until an ambulance blocks the shot. But it doesn’t matter, Wells can’t bear to see her anyway.