(Updated with more details) 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,”a scared Nichols can be heard telling screaming police as they push him to the road and beat him.
All of the grisly footage made public Friday by the city of Memphis can be seen here. Warning this is very graphic and upsetting.
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 police footage before MSNBC and Fox News. The Memphis Police released four videos of the assault on Friday, some with audio, some without. In the somewhat redacted footage, 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. At one point, up to eight cops are seen standing around the injured Nichols.
“We have now obtained the video and we are going to turn that around as soon as possible,” FNC’s Jesse Watters told viewers just after 7 PM ET. After a warning of what viewers were about to see, MSNBC’s Joy Reid began playing the body camera and surveillance video video around 7:05 PM ET. Citing the “piecemeal” nature of the video release, Watters and FNC started showing a portion of the sometimes blurry footage at about 7:11 PM ET, before returning to a split screen interview.
Unlike CNN and MSNBC, Fox offered commentary on the footage. (8:05 PM ET/5:05 PM PT: At approximately, 7:55 PM ET, Fox’s Watters told viewers of the Rupert Murdoch-owned channel that FNC would be showing all four Memphis police videos “in full.” Cutting to Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox began airing large segments of the “brutal” footage, as Carlson called it, from various angles with Nichols yelling for his mother as police relentlessly attack him.)
Among broadcast networks, NBC originally stayed on its Nightly News 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 remained with its PGA Tour programming for West Coast viewers.
Disney-owned ABC cut in nationally with a David Muir hosted special report at around 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PM PT. Running for about five minutes, the special report had updates from Memphis and Justice Department correspondent Pierre Thomas, but the network did not show the police footage. ABC did show split screen footage of protesters in Memphis. A short time later, NBC News broke in with a special report anchored by Lester Holt that included some clips of the footage, in addition to a report from Memphis and legal commentary.
CNN decided to handle the release of the video as a “live rolling coverage event,” with anchors and experts adding context and explanation and “explaining to our audience why we’re showing the whole thing and processing it with them in real time,” according to a network source explaining the decision.
“Local authorities have put out the video in transparency so the community can understand what led to the death of Tyre Nichols, an event so brutal that five former officers are facing charges,” the source said. “Because so little information has come out about what transpired, this video is vital to understanding what happened.” The network also dropped the authentication on CNN.com so it can be viewed live on digital platforms.
CNN and other networks included warning labels on the footage, while other outlets, like The New York Times, did not.
PBS’ Washington Week in Review covered the release, with guest CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe saying, “He was treated no better than an animal, and it is just terrible to watch. We’re paid to watch it and we have to process it. Americans and viewers watching don’t have to if you don’t want to. But you need to know. It’s terrible.”
He added, “The contrast between that and what happened to Rodney King all those years ago — there is almost no difference. And that is what is so troubling to police officers who have seen this earlier this week and began warning everybody to prepare for the reaction.”
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 parent’s home, officers initially tried to pull FedEx employee 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. After beating Nichols, the cops stood around and did not provide any medical aid to the clearly brutalized man. In fact, it took over half an hour for any assistance to show up.
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 against Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith could be coming, the prosecutor’s office has hinted.
A funeral for Tyre Nichols has been set for next week.
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