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Protests break out after the release of videos showing police beating Tyre Nichols

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Protesters in Memphis shut down an interstate bridge over the Mississippi River last night in response to the awful violence captured on video of police brutalizing Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop. Mr. Nichols died three days later. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Memphis. Debbie, thanks for being with us.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: There is lots of anger and, I think it's safe to say, just human disgust after seeing these videos - President Biden, governors, police chiefs, people around the country. What about reaction in Memphis?

ELLIOTT: You know, it was pretty peaceful. The Nichols family had pled for protests, but peaceful protests, and that's pretty much what played out. The most disruptive action started at a downtown park just before the videos came out. Here's Black Lives Matter organizer Amber Sherman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMBER SHERMAN: I'm not waiting for the video to drop. I know what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Amen.

SHERMAN: Tyre was murdered.

ELLIOTT: They had a brief rally, and then, several dozen demonstrators took to the streets. They climbed up on the I-55 bridge over the Mississippi River between Memphis and West Memphis, Ark. And they pretty much shut down traffic for about three hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No peace.

SHERMAN: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No peace.

SHERMAN: Justice for Tyre.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Justice for Tyre.

ELLIOTT: That justice-for-Tyre chant is something you've heard time and time again here as people sort of grapple with what happened. It's just such a wrenching and somber moment for the city.

SIMON: And let's talk about those videos. And they depict a lot of violence. They're filled with profanities. We're not going to play any of the audio, but we have to warn people that it's difficult just to hear about what we see on these videos. What do we see?

ELLIOTT: Right. It makes you sick to your stomach. First, you see the officers make this superaggressive traffic stop. They yank Nichols from his car. He appears to be baffled, trying to cooperate, asking, what do they want with him? What did he do? He seems scared. He flees. Later videos show the officers have regained custody of him. And they're beating him, pummeling him. They kick him in the head with their boots. They use a baton to flog him. They leave him struggling on the ground next to a patrol car as more and more law enforcement arrives at the scene. But it's, like, 20 minutes before he gets any medical attention.

The most chilling part of the whole thing is that Nichols cries out for his mother several times. He's within a few hundred feet of her home. His mama, RowVaughn Wells, says she has not watched all of the video. But yesterday, she described the heartbreak of hearing that detail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: For a mother to know that their child was calling them in their need and I wasn't there for him, do you know how I feel right now? Because I wasn't there for my son.

ELLIOTT: So such just horrible grief here. Now, the family does say they're satisfied with the quick response by the Memphis police chief and the prosecutor to bring the officers to justice. But they'd also like to see more done to legally require officers to intervene to stop this kind of violence-driven policing.

SIMON: Five officers have been fired and face charges including second-degree murder. Two sheriff's deputies have also been relieved of duty. They're being investigated. And many people are...

ELLIOTT: And two firefighters.

SIMON: Two firefighters. Thank you. What are the changes to policing in Memphis that a lot of people are calling for now?

ELLIOTT: Well, people say they'd like to see both a change in policy and a change in the culture. The culture went wrong here. This is long overdue according to a woman that I met. Her name is Carol Robinson. She lives in the historically Black Orange Mound neighborhood in Memphis.

CAROL ROBINSON: You know, this is a city that's been like this forever, where nobody will put their foot down. Even when Martin Luther King was killed, nobody put their foot down. And it's time that we start doing that.

ELLIOTT: It's time we start putting our foot down, she says. You hear the frustration in her voice.

SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Memphis. Thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.