COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Former President Donald Trump said Saturday that the footage of Tire Nichols’ brutal beating by five Memphis police officers is “appalling” and that the attack “should never have happened.”
“I thought it was terrible. He was so in trouble. He was just beaten up. That should never have happened,” Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, a day after authorities released footage of the attack on the 29-year-old black man after a traffic stop. Nichols died three days later.
The comments were notable for Trump, who is running for the White House again and has a history of encouraging rough treatment of people in police custody. He was president during the racial justice protests that erupted in the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the time, he signed an executive order encouraging better police practices, but did not acknowledge systemic racial bias.
Trump ultimately focused his 2020 reelection bid on a “law and order” message that emphasized support for law enforcement.
The recently released violent video in Memphis shows police detaining and beating Nichols with their fists, boots and batons for three minutes. The footage shows the police yelling swear words at him as Nichols yells for his mother. Trump said calling out Nichols for his mother was “a very sad moment.”
“That was really the point that hit me the most, to be honest,” he said.
Trump did not mention the video in his campaign speeches in New Hampshire or South Carolina, the first stops of his 2024 presidential campaign.
The five former Memphis Police Department officers, who are also black, have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes. The Nichols family’s legal team has likened it to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Trump said the Memphis Police Department took a “strong step” by disbanding the police unit involved in the attack, which was created to deal with violent offenders in areas plagued by high crime.
“Look, the tape may not have been completely convincing, but to me it was pretty convincing and it was mean and violent and hard to believe — about a traffic violation,” he said.
The throbbing newfound questions about how fatal encounters with law enforcement continue to occur after repeated calls for change and a nationwide reckoning and scrutiny of police following Floyd’s murder. Trump at the time condemned the assassination, but also quashed protests that were largely peaceful, though marred by outbreaks of violence.
Trump tweeted about “thugs” at the Minneapolis protests, warning, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged the post as a glorification of violence and Trump tried to backtrack the comments.
When several thousand people demonstrated in Lafayette Park across from the White House, US park police violently dispersed them with tear gas and flashbulbs shortly before Trump walked through the park for a photo op near St. John’s Church, where he stood in front of cameras holding a Bible to hold.
Price reported from New York.