Protests were underway around the nation on Friday night following the release of harrowing footage showing Memphis officers beating, tasing and pepper-spraying Tyre Nichols — brutality that led to the 29-year-old’s death three days later. Five officers were fired and have since been charged with second-degree murder in the case.
In Memphis, protesters blocked the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, where Interstate 55 crosses the Mississippi River. Other groups have massed along highways and on surface streets, with chants of “Say his name” audible in some scenes. Demonstrators are reportedly calling for the shutdown of MPD’s Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhood (SCORPION) Unit, a 50-officer task force created in 2021 with the aim of reducing violent crime in the city. The officers who fatally beat Nichols were members of that unit, which Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says has been inactive since the photographer, skateboarder and father of a 4-year-old boy died on Jan. 10.
In New York, Grand Central Station was partly shut down, accessible only to ticket holders “because of several protests in the Midtown Manhattan area this evening,” a service advisory explained. Demonstrators bearing signs stood inside the building around rush hour, while others gathered in Union Square and Times Square.
Police in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, set up barriers for demonstration on K Street, a few blocks away in the White House. More protesters staged at Lafayette Square, just north of the building, with signs that read “Jail Killer Cops,” chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
In California, a small group of demonstrators occupied an intersection in Sacramento, where Nichols had lived before moving to Tennessee. Although law enforcement in Los Angeles had signaled possible mobilization for protests, the downtown area remained mostly quiet on Friday afternoon, and the LAPD was not yet on tactical alert.
Other cities seeing social justice actions Friday night on behalf of Nichols included Boston and Atlanta. The latter has lately been roiled over the deadly police shooting of 26-year-old Manuel Teran on Jan. 18. Teran had belonged to a group of activists trying to halt the razing of forest land to develop a $90 million police training center critics have labeled “Cop City.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, has urged protesters marching for her son to remain peaceful.
“I want each and every one of you to protest in peace, I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that is not what my son stood for,” Wells said on Thursday night, according to Memphis news channel WREG. “If you guys are here for Tyre and me, then you will protest peacefully.”