Tyre Nichols, 29, was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers and later died in the hospital. Credit: Courtesy of Nichols' family

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After officials in Memphis, Tennessee, released video Friday evening showing five police officers severely beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, protestors gathered in downtown D.C. to speak out against police brutality and demand justice. Nichols died from his injuries earlier this month. Organizers from the mutual aid group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams led actions at 13th and K streets NW, speaking out against systemic racist violence and reading the names of individuals who’ve been killed by police in D.C. 

The actions Friday night were completely peaceful, but that did not prevent the Metropolitan Police Department from activating its full force in anticipation of protests. Moveable bike racks ringed the Capitol as well. Participants described feeling exhausted and planned to conserve their energy in order to be able to meet the needs of their community members.

Speakers and organizers in downtown D.C. projected demands for Memphis leaders: ending pretextual stops, removing police from traffic enforcement, and disbanding the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit, a 40-person team created in 2021 to address rising homicides. The five officers now charged in Nichols’ death were members of the specialized unit, similar to MPD’s Crime Suppression Teams. On Saturday, the Memphis Police Department announced that the SCORPION unit was permanently terminated.

Members of MPD’s Crime Suppression Teams were involved in the deaths of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown and 18-year-old Deon Kay.

D.C. Officials Respond

Leaders, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and multiple members of the D.C. Council, expressed their dismay about Nichols’ horrific death in formal statements.

“Tonight, we are a city and country united by tragedy, but we are also determined—to deliver justice for Tyre and change for our nation,” Bowser said in a statement released Friday night. 

“Tyre Nichols’ killing is yet another tragic example of why we need and must continue to demand that Congress act to pass federal reforms that establish national standards for professional policing and public accountability,” At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s statement, released Saturday, reads. McDuffie also referenced his role in developing and passing policing reform legislation while chairing the Council’s judiciary committee. 

Newly sworn-in Attorney General Brian Schwalb emphasized his office’s support for those gathering downtown in his statement. “I urge people across the District who are understandably angry and heartbroken to make their voices heard peacefully in the coming days. The Office of the Attorney General will always protect and support your right to peacefully protest in DC,” he wrote late Friday night. 

President Joe Biden has spoken with Nichols’ mother and stepfather, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells. They will attend his State of the Union address, scheduled to be delivered on Feb. 7, on an invitation from the Congressional Black Caucus.

Caroline Jones (cjones@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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By City Paper staff (tips? editor@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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By City Paper staff (tips? editor@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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