CNN went first, but other cable news outlets were cautious today in showing the horrific police body cam video footage of the fatal January 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols. “I’m just trying to get home,” Nichols can be heard telling screaming police as they push him to the road and beat him.
Just before the video went public today at 7 PM ET, Erin Burnett told viewers that “CNN will air it in its entirety” and the footage is “graphic and excruciating.”
CNN began airing the raw police footage before MSNBC and Fox News. The Memphis Police released four videos of the assault on Friday, some with audio, some without. The five now fired officers can be seen hitting a non-resisting Nichols over and over with batons. Stun gun was also used at one point, as well as the some members of the group punching Nichols repeatedly while others held him down.
“We have now obtained the video and we are going to turn that around as soon as possible,” FNC’s Jessie Walters told viewers just after 7 PM ET. After a warning of what viewers were about to see, MSNBC’s Joy Reid began playing the video around 7:05 PM ET. Citing the “piecemeal” nature of the video release, Walters and FNC started showing a portion of the sometimes blurry footage at about 7:11 PM ET, before returning to a split screen interview.
NBC stayed on its Nightly News broadcast on the East Coast, while ABC and CBS remained with regular programming. On the West Coast, the Big 3 broadcast networks saw ABC and NBC stick with local news. While occasionally displaying a crawl with details of the video, CBS stuck with its PGA Tour programming for West Coast viewers.
A bruised and bloodied Nichols died in hospital on January 10, three days after five Memphis cops pulled the 29-year-old African American man over for a traffic violation and a violent confrontation ensued.
Mere blocks from the victim’s home, officers initially tried to pull Nichols out of his car with pepper spray utilized. Nichols then ran off, only to be captured by police and “there was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols,” said Shelby County D.A. Steve Mulroy in a January 26 press conference
Earlier Friday, the Nichols family held a press conference of their own along with noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump in the Tennessee metropolis. “We went peaceful protests, that’s what the family wants, that’s what the community wants,” Nichols’ grieving step-father Rodney Wells said to the cameras as concerns rose for unrest following the release of the police footage.
On Thursday night, Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells visited a candlelight vigil for her son. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully,’ she told the gathering. “You can get your point across but we don’t need to tear up our cities, people, because we do have to live in them.”
The Nichols family, along with various members of Memphis law enforcement saw the video hours before its public release this afternoon.
“I’ve seen the video myself and I will tell you I was appalled,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a DC press conference this morning with Attorney General Merrick Garland. “I have not seen the video but I have been briefed on that video. It is deeply disturbing, let me say horrific, from the descriptions I’ve been given,” the Attorney General stated.
President Joe Biden put out a statement Friday expressing his condolences to the Nichols family and seeking police reform. “As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” the President added. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
In the context, Memphis’ police chief hoped to prepare citizens for how graphic and cruel the now former officers beating of Nichols was. “You’re going to see acts that defy humanity,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis told CNN’s Don Lemon this morning. “You’re going to see a disregard for life.”
Hours before the video’s anticipated release, some like The Roots leader and Oscar winner Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson took to social media to urge people not to watch the “torture porn” video of Nichols’ assault:
D.A. Mulroy’s office has charged each of the now fired officers, all of whom are, Black, with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Under Tennessee laws, a guilty second-degree murder charge has a sentence of 15 to 60 years in state prison.
More charges could be coming, the prosecutor’s office has hinted.