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  • Bonnie Chapman

From a Pauper's Grave to a National Symbol - Tyre Nichols

Photo courtesy of New York Post

Written by: Bonnie Chapman

It was a cold January night when Memphis SCORPION unit (Street Crime Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhood) pulled over Tyre Nichols. According to police reports, Nichols was suspected of reckless driving. Officials posted a stamens to social media: “As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the suspect fled the scene on foot. Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody.

While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended. Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”This is an unfortunate reality in America today everyday encounters with the police result in life threatening experiences and in most cases recently— death.

Initially, five officers were involved with the beating and death of Nichols. As time progresses, we have been introduced to several others who have also played a significant role in his death. EMT, fire officers and police officers failed Nichols; the entire system failed him and other African American men and women everyday. It is times like these that we must demand change. The unfortunate reality is that some only care for the moment and next time this happens they’ll say ‘thoughts and prayers’ but that will not solve the problem. Police reform is necessary to make a change but this problem will not be solved until we change the system as a whole. The system that is inherently racist and has been since the formation of the United States.

Tyre succumbed to his injuries on January 10th three days after he was brutally attacked. His mother, RowVaughn Wells was blocked from seeing her son at the hospital according to CNN. The police officers had told her she couldn’t see her son because he was under arrest. By the time both of his parents arrived, he was deceased. In graphic photos from the family you can see the extent of the beating Nichols took from the SCORPION unit. His mother described one injury as Tyre's ‘neck was bursting because of the swelling.’ She told CNN.

“His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was bursting because of the swelling— they broke his neck. My son’s nose looked like an ‘S’ ; they actually beat the crap out of him.” Extensive amounts of blood is seen on his pillow along with the ventilator he’s hooked up to. He had multiple open wounds on his forehead and the corner of his eyes.

Following Tyre’s death, five Memphis officers have been fired and charged with second degree murder. At the time of this article, three additional people have been connected with Tyre’s murder. Breaking Through reporter Cameron Turley will be covering how one white officer was protected while the five initial officers— all African American, were fired immediately and charged.

ABC reported that two of the five officers that were fired and charged had previous reprimands on their records. Emmit Martin III failed to submit a “response to resistance” form that was requested after he used force on arresting a woman in 2019. Demetrius Haley failed to submit the same form for using force on another woman in 2021. With other cases where police officers forget to do paperwork, it can be seen as an oversight or a coverup. It’s too early to tell.

The family attorney, Ben Crump released a statement with the following: “We can state that preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023,” Crump said that Nichols was tased, pepper sprayed, and restrained. Comparisons have been made between Tyre Nichols death and Rodney King’s. Another attorney for the family, Antonio Romanucci said to WTVA “he was a human piñata for those police officers,”. From research it seems like everyone agrees this is a heinous crime, but what changes will be made?

In an interview with CNN his mother described tyre as slim but tall, a Starbucks lover, skateboarder, photographer and a dedicated son. His mother’s name is tattooed on his arm (which can be seen in the last photos of him) and he battled with Crohn’s disease along with digestive problems.

Watching the body cam footage made me physically sick and I wasn’t able to finish it. I usually have a iron clad stomach and am able to keep a level head no matter the content— but this was disturbing. Between the outright man hunting, passing him around to be hit and kicked and his incoherent grunting— it wasn’t bearable. I urge those who want to watch the footage for themselves to watch it as long as they can.

While on the ground in Memphis breaking through reporters felt the silence within the city. The day following the bodycam footage being released the weather was gloomy, light rain and dreary skies; like the state itself was mourning the loss of one of its residents' tragic murder. Speaking to the community the answers were all the same— utter shock and horror that this happened. Some solemn faces continued with everyday tasks, like most, the feeling of loss looms over their head.

When trying to locate where Tyre Nichols was laid to rest, breaking through reporters including myself were absolutely heartbroken to see the dilapidated building where his remains were placed. Initially it was thought that we were sent to the wrong funeral home but bystanders confirm that Tyre’s family was there for the initial service. According to Us-

Funerals, the traditional adult funeral in Memphis is about 7 thousand dollars and this does not include commentary costs. According to the United States census bureau the median household income is roughly $58.5K a year— 2.4K a month. Three months of income would be needed to bury a loved one, only considering that this service is planned beforehand and not an unexpected police murder. Taking into account that 13.6% of residents in Tennessee are experiencing poverty.

With police brutality on the rise and most of it being race based, 17% of Tennessee is African American and at risk of police brutality. Due to heavier policing in metropolitan areas, their risk increases with having special units like SCORPION essentially over analyzing and racially profiling anyone and everyone.

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