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Memphis police chief calls treatment of Tyre Nichols a 'failing of basic humanity'

A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after a traffic stop with Memphis Police.
Adrian Sainz
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AP
A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after a traffic stop with Memphis Police.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said Wednesday that her officers' treatment of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died three days after a traffic stop, was a "failing of basic humanity."

Nichols, who was Black, died on Jan. 10, days after being pulled over for reckless driving. He fled the scene of the traffic stop but was ultimately taken into custody after what police said were two "confrontations" with officers.

Authorities said Nichols complained of "shortness of breath" after his arrest and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Nichols' family said the police beat him so badly that he became unrecognizable.

Five Memphis police officers, who are all Black, and two Memphis Fire Department employees, were fired as a result of the incident.

The following is an excerpt of Davis's statement:

CERELYN DAVIS: In light of the horrific circumstances surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols, it is absolutely incumbent upon me, your chief, to address the status of what the Memphis Police Department is doing, has done and will continue to do in furtherance of finding truth in this tragic loss – ensuring we communicate with honesty and transparency, and that there is absolute accountability for those responsible for Tyre's death.

These officers were found to be directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols. Concurrent within that investigation, other MPD officers are still under investigation for department policy violations. Some infractions are less egregious than others. As this investigation and other external investigations continue, I promise full and complete cooperation from the Memphis Police Department with the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Shelby County District Attorney's office to determine the entire scope of facts that contributed to Tyre Nichols' death.

Aside from being your chief of police, I am a citizen of this community we share. I am a mother. I am a caring human being who wants the best for all of us. This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane. And in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves.

I expect you to feel what the Nichols family feels. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights, as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video. I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results. But we need to ensure our community is safe in this process. None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.

In our hurt, in our outrage and frustration, there's still work to be done to build each other up to continue the momentum of improving our police and community relationships and partnerships, to show those who watch us now that this behavior is not what will define our community and our great city.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie