Memphis prepares for the funeral of Tyre Nichols amid mounting questions

This video contains distressing images

Robert Moore reports on the tense situation in Memphis after the death of Tyre Nichols.

Warning: Article contains details some readers may find upsetting

Much of Memphis will come to a standstill on Wednesday for the funeral of Tyre Nichols.

The service will be attended by many of the prominent figures in the civil rights movement.

Nearly three years after the murder of George Floyd, it will be another rallying cry for police accountability and reform.

It is more than three weeks since Mr Nichols was stopped for no apparent reason and beaten to death by police. The investigation into the events of January 7 cannot even find evidence to support the initial claim that he was driving recklessly.

The body-cam video that was released on Friday has sickened America.

A few minutes after his first encounter with the Scorpion Unit he was being beaten, kicked, and subjected to pepper spray. He was asking for his mother, and still the officers showed him no mercy. He died three days after the assault.

Now two additional police officers have been suspended and are being investigated for their role in the savage assault of Mr Nichols. Two medics and a firefighter are also being probed for failing to follow protocols.

It is a profoundly disturbing moment for this city, that recalls some of the most traumatic moments in Memphis’ tumultuous past.

A friend of Tyre Nichols wipes away tears during a memorial service for the 29-year-old. Credit: AP

This is a city, sitting on the Mississippi River, that was once the hub of the slave trade. It was the scene of multiple lynchings that went unreported until the pioneering and fearless investigative work of the young black journalist, Ida B Wells, in the late nineteenth century.

Most infamously, in 1968 amid the height of the civil rights protests and strikes, Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis.

So this is a city that knows all about tragedy and turmoil.

(From top left) officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, (bottom row, from left) Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. Credit: AP

Why does this keep happening? Why would black police officers target an innocent black man and subject him to such a terrifying and lethal ordeal?

Many activists and protesters insist that what it reveals is that the very power structures here are inherently racist. It doesn’t matter the race of the officers; what matters is the race of the victim and his sense of helplessness.

As one resident put it to me amid her visible distress: “If I can’t call the police when I need help, where can I turn?”

It’s a question many black residents are asking, as they have been for over two centuries.

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