In 67 minutes of video, brutality is followed by nonchalance

If you arrived too late, you might have missed him there, bloodied and beaten.

The demeanor of the officers seems unconcerned and their work is not urgent as they exchange battle stories, a fist bump and a pat on the back in this quiet corner. Police ranks have exploded, but everyone seems to agree that there’s nothing to see here. They tie their boots and brood over their glasses and carp over knee pain, so you may have missed him out there among the phalanx that towers above, the ones who smile and laugh and go home safe.

Look past the men who punched, kicked, shocked, sprayed, dragged and now stand seemingly indifferent. Let your eyes slide down and the crumpled body comes into view. With his hands behind his back, one shoe off, he writhes helplessly on the pavement. His screams seem to have ended, his cries for his mother have ceased, and his voice has weakened to the point that his words are hard to make out.

“There’s nowhere to go,” the officer replies, leaning over him. “You can’t go anywhere.”

In a poignant video from this night in Memphis, all eyes are turned to the chaotic moments of brutality that preceded this, which would see another black man killed at the hands of police. But beyond the attacks themselves, the footage captures another excruciating reality: minute-by-minute joking nonchalance from the officers as Tire Nichols lay badly injured, their behavior seemed to confirm how common these things are.

“The cops who killed Tire Nichols aren’t aberrations. They’re not an outlier,” cultural critic Touré wrote on Twitter. “That’s normal police procedure, but usually they get away with it.”

The 67 minutes of body camera and surveillance footage released in the case is a confused and messy picture of the night that would lead to Nichols’ death and murder charges for five officers, all also black. The views are sometimes unclear and the story incomplete, but the video also offers stunning clarity about what happened.

It starts at about 8:24 PM on a Saturday night, January 7. What prompted officers to pull over Nichols is unprecedented, but for the routine traffic stop they claimed it was, the escalation seems immediate and mind-boggling.

At least three officers surround Nichols’ car as he is ripped from his blue sedan. At least one of them approaches with a rifle outstretched. Nichols can be heard saying for the first time, “I didn’t do anything”, and is pushed to the ground. He demonstrates obedience, repeating “okay” over and over as the officers yell and swear.

‘Bag him! Touch him! barks an officer.

He has been wrestled to the ground, but officers continue to yell at him to lie down, an order that seems to confuse Nichols, who is already lying on his right side. Still, he responds calmly, his voice cracking just a hint as he tries to appease them.

“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” says Nichols. “I’m just trying to go home.”

Nichols finally seems upset when officers keep yelling at him to lie down.

“I’m on the ground!” he yells back, before suddenly getting up and breaking free.

Only a minute has passed since officers opened his car door.

Someone fires a stun gun as Nichols runs away. At least two officers go after him, but give up after about 15 seconds. A cop gasps as he radios for backup and walks back to the street where Nichols’ car is.

About eight minutes later, the message comes that the suspect has been arrested.

“I hope they stomp his ass,” one officer says to the other. “I hope they stomp his ass.”

It is now 8:33 p.m. and officers have gathered at the corner of Castlegate and Bear Creek, less than half a mile from where this started. Nichols’ capture becomes so brutal it’s hard to comprehend.

From a security camera hanging above, Nichols is seen walking down the street. Two officers hold him down while a third appears to kick him in the head once.

“Mommy! Mommy!” he is crying.

He is allowed to sit up, but an officer uses his baton to hit him on the back. He wiggles back up and then takes a series of punches to his face and head. He’s doused in pepper spray.

Nichols now seems almost unable to stand. He is held up by cops as more blows land. Then, after about five minutes of attacking, he is dragged a short distance, his lifeless body slammed against a car.

It’s 8:38 PM, just 14 minutes after the first traffic stop. You can’t see Nichols’ face, but hospital photos released later show his nose at an unnatural angle and his face bloodied and bruised, almost beyond recognition.

Nichols’ moans have been silenced and the night’s action has largely ceased. Left in its wake is the ever-increasing number of cops wandering, chatting and most importantly just watching with such nonchalance you’d think nothing ever happened. Paramedics arrive a few minutes later and yet Nichols appears unattended.

He was only a minute or two away from the house he shared with his mother, RowVaughn Wells. The cops’ voices hear them calling him “bitch,” “bastard,” and worse.

His mother knows the truth. He was 29 and imbued with California mellow, a FedEx employee, amateur photographer, skateboarder, and “damn near perfect” mama’s boy. He was not on drugs, Wells said, and had no guns. He went out to take pictures of the sky and never came home.

The footage runs for over 20 minutes until an ambulance blocks the shot. Wells can’t look at it anyway.


Matt Sedensky can be reached at and

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