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There's no way to prepare for the Tyre Nichols video, a Memphis pastor says

People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols on Thursday at the Tobey Skate Park in Memphis, Tenn.
Scott Olson
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People attend a candlelight vigil in memory of Tyre Nichols on Thursday at the Tobey Skate Park in Memphis, Tenn.

Updated January 27, 2023 at 12:06 PM ET

Outrage is building over the case of Tyre Nichols, who died three days after Memphis police officers beat him during a traffic stop earlier this month.

The five officers, all of whom — like Nichols — are Black, have been fired as well as charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping. Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy has said "they are all responsible" for the death of the 29-year-old.

City officials plan to release body camera footage of the incident Friday night, and are bracing for protests to follow.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has said she expects people will be outraged by "the disregard of basic human rights" and moved to protest, but asked that they do so without inciting violence or destruction.

Pastor Earle Fisher, a police reform advocate and the pastor at Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, said he doesn't think there's anything local leaders can do to prepare the community for what they might see.

"I think I'm just prayerful that cooler heads will prevail and a lot of God's will will be done," he says. "And I know I've seen far too much Black death as a spectacle, and I'm not excited about trying to view another video of a Black man being killed by law enforcement."

Fisher spoke with Morning Edition's A Martínez about Nichols' case, including what concerns him most and how he finds hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Interview highlights

On the significance of the officers being charged before the video's public release

I was with a group of clergy. We had a meeting with [the district attorney.] And I think collectively we felt like that was a better sequence of events. I think most of the time when there are significant and substantial uprisings, it is the byproduct of delayed or denied justice. And this is not to suggest that somehow we are at a state of justice right now. I think these officers being charged is just step one. And true justice would mean that Tyre Nichols will still be [with] us.

On the idea that diversifying police forces could curb police brutality

I think that attorney [Ben] Crump is spot on, and others who have said: When you look at this it's not ever really about the demographics or the ethnicity and the racial makeup of the officer, it's about the demographics, the ethnicity and the racial makeup of the person who is being policed. And when it's been Black people, it doesn't matter whether the officers are white or Black, we are still prone to disproportionate and egregious brutality.

On why city officials bear some responsibility too

So for instance, they launched this "Scorpion unit" — which is the specialized unit that all of these officers were involved in — in the fall of 2021. And in less than a year and a half, you already have one dead body, and we don't know if there's others out there, because I don't think anybody would suggest that this was these officers' first dance at the rodeo. And having all of them all be employed within the last five years, that suggests to me that somebody should have been responsible for their supervision and oversight. I'm clear that they didn't have the level of autonomy and independence to do something as heinous as this. So I'd like to see people press the mayor and the police chief a little bit more on how things got to this level.

On whether national media presence is stoking anxieties in Memphis

Yeah, I think there's definitely the potential. But at the same time, I understand the need for people wanting to be at the forefront of, you know, breaking news and the story ... and this is definitely a significant and substantial development. And again, not just insofar as things are here on the ground in Memphis, but as people are bracing themselves for protests all around the country. As was the case with George Floyd, I think, that ultimately helped us advance some of the conversation and some of the initiatives — even though we still haven't passed the George Floyd Act. But this does provide us an opportunity to advance the conversation in ways that I think are helpful.

On what gives him hope in a dark time

I always find hope in the courage, the creativity and the consciousness of everyday people and citizens who are showing tremendous poise and passion and protesting and other community efforts. ... Through some of the political organizing and voter advocacy work of groups like the UpTheVote901 ... we've been able to impact this past election, where we now have a much more progressive district attorney.

I am pretty confident that if the previous district attorney was still in office, we would not be having the conversation that we're having right now, because there were several police-involved shootings in her tenure and there was not one indictment. And so there are things that I do find hope in, but I'm not sure that my hope is built in a system and a structure that needs so much substantial reform and change. And there are so many people who are in positions of leadership that seem resistant to that change.

This broadcast interview was produced by Lilly Quiroz and Mansee Khurana.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.