ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — To express their grief and anger over the death of Tyre Nichols, area residents gathered in Newark on Jan. 28 to demand justice for Nichols, who was beaten to death by five police officers in Memphis, Tenn.
On Jan. 7, five police officers from the Memphis Police Department severely beat 29-year-old Nichols during a traffic stop. Nichols died three days later. The officers allegedly stopped Nichols for reckless driving. They pulled him from his car, pepper-sprayed him and shocked him with a stun gun. He was able to run away, but, when he was caught, five officers brutally beat him as he called for his mother. The five officers were fired on Jan. 20, and were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, assault and misconduct on Jan. 26.
Government and law enforcement officials throughout New Jersey have condemned Nichols’ death.
“We are horrified by the video footage released earlier today that showed Memphis police officers brutally and inhumanely beating Tyre Nichols,” Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver said in a joint statement following the release of the incident footage. “When those sworn to uphold the law violate the rights of those they serve, there must be accountability. While we are gratified that the officers involved were immediately relieved of duty and swiftly charged for their roles in Tyre’s death, that does not reverse the injustice that was done. Tyre should be alive today.
“All Americans deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity by law enforcement, particularly black Americans, who for far too long have received disparate treatment by our criminal justice system. Although the vast majority of police officers serve honorably, there are a select few who abuse their positions of power and unjustly tarnish the reputation of a profession dedicated to protecting the public,” they continued. “In New Jersey, we have enacted meaningful police reforms, including revamping use-of-force standards, ensuring independent investigations in police-involved shootings, requiring all officers to wear body cameras and allowing for the decertification of officers who commit serious misconduct. And we are committed to deepening this work. We extend our deepest sympathies to Tyre’s family, along with our hopes for justice and accountability.”
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin also commended New Jersey’s efforts to prevent and, if needed, prosecute extreme force from police. He pledged to continue working in this area.
“Tyre Nichols should be alive today — not just as a matter of principle or justice, but as a matter of human dignity. The footage our nation watched tonight was unconscionable. Law enforcement officers are faced with incredible responsibilities often under the most challenging circumstances, and nearly all dispatch those duties with respect for the lives and safety of those they serve. There is no excuse for this violence — it erodes the trust between community and law enforcement that people across this state tirelessly work to build and strengthen. We will not let violence win, and we will redouble our efforts to maintain and grow the strong partnerships we have built,” Platkin said on Jan. 27.
“Tonight, I share the grief felt by people across this state and country. I have spoken with many of our residents who are in pain right now, and I know this murder rips the scabs off wounds that have hardly healed. In New Jersey, law enforcement will be part of that healing. We will listen to our residents, and we will continue on the path towards justice together,” he continued. “As our state’s chief law enforcement officer, as a father and as a human being, my heart is with the people who loved and lost Mr. Nichols. And my prayer is that we end this violence, so no one else ever experiences the profound sadness of a mother who cannot hug her son tonight and a son who will grow up not knowing his father.”
Philip R. Sellinger, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, offered his support to the law enforcement community prosecuting the officers who killed Nichols.
“Like so many around the country, we are deeply disturbed by the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Tyre Nichols. Shortly after his death, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Tennessee and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened a criminal civil rights investigation. We express support for our colleagues who are working hand in hand with the FBI and other law enforcement partners,” Sellinger said Jan. 27. “We have no doubt that their investigation will be thorough and methodical, and they will make decisions based on the facts and the law. In addition to the federal investigation, several officers are now facing prosecution for state charges. We appreciate the significant public interest in this matter. We want to make clear that the U.S. attorney’s office respects the right of all people to assemble and protest peacefully. As Tyre Nichols’ family has urged, we urge that any protests remain peaceful and nonviolent.”
Sellinger reminded residents that those who believe they may have been victims of civil rights violations may file a complaint with the U.S attorney’s office at tinyurl.com/58twj2xw or call the U.S. attorney’s office civil rights hotline at 855-281-3339.
On the county level, Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson, on behalf of the entire Essex County Board of County Commissioners, expressed his outrage that incidents like this keep happening in this country.
“Again. The heart-wrenching video of a grown black man using his last ounce of strength to call out in desperation to his mother,” Richardson said on Jan. 30. “None but the most damaged among us can bear to watch or listen to the videotape of Tyre Nichol’s murder. The depravity of those members of the Memphis Police Department’s Scorpion Unit is beyond comprehension, beyond the limits of our imagination. And yet, it’s happened. Again.
“In the worst combination of conditions, driving while black continues to be a death sentence in America. It is the result of the debauched corruption of ignorance, the most contorted manifestation of power, the outcome of centuries of American white supremacy and the brutality so often embedded in law enforcement culture,” he continued, adding that training needs to be developed and increased to prevent this from happening again.
Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis, on behalf of the entire Maplewood Township Committee, said that officials in Maplewood are resolved to end this type of violence.
“My colleagues and I denounce the deadly force used against Tyre Nichols and call for justice for him and his family,” Dafis said. “We continue to work on better policing here at home and across New Jersey. Our hearts are broken.”
In his statement, East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green expressed his condolences to the Nichols family and called the beating and killing of Nichols “a heinous act.”
“Watching the horrific and merciless beating of Tyre Nichols was extremely disturbing. My heart breaks for his family as they suffer through this devastating loss under the scrutiny of the entire nation. This abuse of power from those we expect to protect and serve must end,” Green said. “This sadistic and egregious abuse of power is not a reflection of the good and decent men and women who live up to their oath each day. Rather, it is a demonstration of just how far we have to go to increase mutual respect, trust and cooperation between citizens and law enforcement. And our reality — America’s reality — is that it will happen over and over again until we deal with the root causes of a system that has been broken for too long.”
West Orange Township officials denounced the death of Nichols and reaffirmed the West Orange Police Department’s commitment to community policing.
“It is disturbing to all law enforcement agencies who uphold the highest of professional standards. West Orange police officers are specifically instructed to de-escalate potential volatile situations and rely on their ongoing training to hopefully prevent such situations from occurring,” read a statement from West Orange public information officer Joseph Fagan. “West Orange Police Chief James Abbott is reminding residents that peaceful protests are acceptable, but violent acts of destruction are never the answer for citizens to express frustration and outrage.”
Glen Ridge Police Chief Sean Quinn expressed his horror and disgust at what he saw in the footage of Nichols being beaten.
“To see the level of inhumanity and disregard for human life on display from those who were sworn to serve and protect their community was appalling and reprehensible. We also share the anger and outrage that many across our nation are feeling after watching the disturbing images. The brutality suffered by Mr. Nichols and the failure of officers to intervene leaves everyone, including police officers, sickened and are in complete contradiction to the values and mission of the Glen Ridge Police Department,” Quinn said.
South Orange Police Chief Ernesto Morillo said that he and his department strive every day to serve South Orange with these three values: integrity, professionalism and compassion.
“What the world saw when the recordings of the assault of Tyre Nichols was released showed, in the words of Memphis Police Chief (Cerelyn) Davis, ‘acts that defy humanity.’ This and many more emotional words will be said about what was done to Mr. Nichols. Words that will devastate our hearts and bring about disappointment in those charged to protect us. We will grieve with Tyre’s family and the Memphis community, and we will strengthen our commitment to the highest ideals of public service,” Morillo said, promising to work with village leaders and residents to continue improving the department for the safety and security of all residents. “Integrity, professionalism and compassion are values that affirm the humanity of those we serve. They are values that affirm our own humanity. Words that form the core of our identity: that we are the same, that the police are the community and the community is the police.”
For Maplewood Police Chief Albert Sally, the footage of Nichols being beaten was “disheartening” and strengthens his department’s commitment to “the safety and concerns of the citizens.”
“I did not observe anything in the video that justifies the five officers’ actions,” Sally said. “Humanity and training would dictate that an officer intervene when a fellow officer conducts criminal activity and render aid to someone needing medical attention. The officers who participated in this traffic stop decided not to use these practices.”
According to East Orange Public Safety Director Maurice Boyd, “It is with a heavy heart that the East Orange Public Safety Department mourns the death of Tyre Nichols. Today is a terrible day for law enforcement across the nation. Once again we are presented with a case of police brutality. Our public safety division does not and will never condone such an act of violence toward another human being. We want the Nichols family to know that we stand with them in solidarity. We ask that everyone remain peaceful and allow the judiciary system to do their job as we attempt to heal from this heinous act of violence.”
Photos by Javon Ross