The death of black motorist Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, three weeks ago has sparked a wave of protests across the US decrying police brutality.
Memphis Police Department in the US State of Tennessee disbanded the city’s so-called Scorpion unit on Saturday citing a “cloud of dishonour” after its officers were seen beating motorist Tyre Nichols in a recently released videotape.
Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis acted a day after the brutal video emerged, saying she listened to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision.
Her announcement comes as the nation and the city struggle to come to grips with the violence of the officers, who are also Black.
The video renewed doubts about why fatal encounters with law enforcement keep happening despite repeated calls for change.
The footage shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him in an assault that the Nichols family legal team has likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is propped against a squad car and the officers exchange fist-bumps.
Protestors marching through downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protestor said over a bullhorn that “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”
Referring to “the heinous actions of a few” that dishonoured the unit, Davis contradicted an earlier statement that she would keep the team. She said it was imperative that the department “take proactive steps in the healing process.”
“It is in the best interest of all to deactivate the Scorpion unit permanently,” she said in a statement. She told the officers currently assigned to it agreed “unreservedly.”
The unit was composed of three teams of about 30 officers whose stated aim was to target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime. It had been inactive since Nichols’ January 7 arrest.
Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods.
In an interview on Friday Davis had said she would not shut down a unit if a few officers commit “some egregious act” and because she needed it to continue to work.
“The whole idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said then.
Davis became the first Black female chief in Memphis one year after George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police.
At the time, she was chief in Durham, North Carolina, and had called for sweeping police reform.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers for the Nichols family, said the move was “a decent and just decision.”
“We must remember that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as this misconduct is not restricted to these speciality units. It extends so much further,” they said.
The five disgraced officers: Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death, which came three days after the arrest.
They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted.