How was the Scorpion Unit to which the agents who gave the brutal beating of Tire Nichols belonged and who are now accused of murder
- Chelsea Bailey and George Wright
The Memphis Police (United States) has dissolved its Scorpion special group, whose officers are accused of murdering a black man during a routine procedure.
The unit, whose mission was to combat street crime and restore peace and quiet to neighborhoods with high crime rates, was made up of fifty agents.
However, it has been disbanded after five of its officers were recorded on January 7 beating Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old man, who died days later in a hospital.
“The best thing for everyone is to permanently disable” the driveannounced the authorities of the southern US city in a statement.
“The egregious actions of a few cast a cloud of dishonor over the Scorpion, therefore it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps towards the recovery process for all those affected,” he added.
Nichols’ family welcomed the decision. In a statement released by her lawyers, she described the measure as “appropriate and proportional to the tragic death of Tire Nichols” and also “decent and fair to all the citizens of Memphis.
The unit was put into operation in October 2021 with the task of combating high-impact crimes, such as auto thefts and gang related crimes.
to the bench
The five officers involved in the incident -Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith- were fired last week.
The former officers were arrested Thursday and each faces charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, misconduct and arbitrary detention.
Four of the five posted bail and were released. on Friday morning, according to jail records.
Attorneys for Martin and Mills have said their clients will plead not guilty.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr said two deputy sheriffs who “appeared on the scene after” the confrontation have also been suspended pending an internal investigation.
“The unit that killed Tire has been permanently disbanded,” a protester shouted into a megaphone in Memphis and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Despite the rain, the group of fewer than 100 protesters gathered in the square outside Memphis Police Headquarters Saturday to demand change to a police system they said has a habit of brutalizing Black people. in Memphis and across the country.
“Memphis is taking action”said Casio Montez, one of the organizers of the protest. “This means that we are doing something right.”
Montez vowed that he and other activists will continue to pressure Police Chief CJ Davis and local authorities until they “the demands of the community are met”including the reform of the unit against organized crime.
In an interview with BBC News on Friday, Chief Davis said the Scorpion group was created to be “more receptive” and “more proactive” to gun violence in the city. But he acknowledged that the officers who brutally beat Tire Nichols “derailed”.
“We are doing an individual evaluation of all the units. It is a necessary step, as we want to be completely transparent with the community,” he said.
But for some, the problem of police violence is deeper than any reform can address.
At the rally on Saturday, a Memphis resident, Allie Watkins, held up a sign proclaiming: “All police officers stand for white supremacy.”
The statement is historically accurate, said the woman, who recalled that The history of the police in the United States began with the slave patrols..
“This is not a problem of corruption in the US, the problem is that the system has been built against the black community“, he explained.
“If the system is broken, the only way to fix it is to start a new one,” he added.
“We need national criminal justice reform,” Gloria Browne-Marshall, professor of constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the BBC.
The expert maintained that units such as the Escorpión group exist “throughout the country”, for which reason a gradual reform would not be a solution.
Police initially said Nichols had been arrested on suspicion of reckless driving, which has not been proven. He died in the hospital three days later, on January 10, as a result of the blows he received.
Nichols was black, as were the five agents defendants in the case.
Memphis police released four graphic videos of the violent arrest on Friday, each of which lasted for more than an hour.
Peaceful protests took place in Memphis on Friday night after the videos were released, with some protesters blocking a major highway in the city, while small-scale demonstrations took place in other parts of the country.
A controversial initiative
Many protesters carried banners demanding justice for Nichols and an end to “police terror.”
Lawyers for the Nichols family compared what happened to their client to the 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers of motorist Rodney King, which sparked a wave of looting and riots in that city.
The Scorpion group was launched by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland just a year ago. The official said they used crime statistics “to determine where the unit would carry out its activities within the city.”
From October 2021 to January 2022, the unit made 566 arrestssaid the local president. Likewise, he reported that the agents that comprised it seized more than US$100,000 in cash, 270 vehicles, and 253 weapons.
Following Nichols’ death, Cornell McKinney, a Memphis resident, reported to local television that he had a tense encounter with agents of the controversial group on January 3, just a few days before Nichols’ death.
McKinney said the officers, who were traveling in unmarked vehicles, held a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. “blow his head off”after accusing him of transporting drugs.
The whistleblower said he filed a complaint with the Memphis Police Department after the incident, but said he had not yet received a response.
One of the officers who arrested Nichols had previously been sued by a man who accused him of beating him when he was incarcerated eight years ago.
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC News World. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.