The images rekindled the discussion about racism within the ranks of the US police force and beyond. Lawyers for Nichols’ family described their actions as “racist”. President Joe Biden was also shocked. In the meantime, the public prosecutor’s office has brought charges against five officers involved, including murder. All five are African American themselves. They were released and arrested. The task force responsible for Nichols’ death was disbanded over the weekend.
In the USA, the police have long been criticized for their extremely ruthless approach, especially when it comes to traffic controls. Often the victims are black. In the past, brutal operations have repeatedly triggered violent protests. The death of the African American George Floyd in May 2020 led to nationwide demonstrations and sometimes violent riots. At that time, a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died. The perpetrator has since been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The videos from the evening of January 7th also show an extremely brutal procedure. The images, taken by officers’ so-called body cameras and a surveillance camera, show officers repeatedly hitting Nichols with their fists and a baton, and kicking him in the head. The 29-year-old – father of a four-year-old son – calls his mother several times without the officers letting go of him.
Nichols was pulled over in his car that night, allegedly because he was speeding. The officers pull him out of the car and pin him to the ground. Nichols repeatedly asks her to stop. He’s on his way home. “I haven’t done anything.” Finally he can tear himself free and tries to flee on foot. He is caught at another crossroads. Several officers hold Nichols while other officers brutally beat him with their fists and a baton. Nichols moans and wails.
Two officers hold his torso up while a third officer kicks him in the head. They then drag the badly injured man to an emergency vehicle and lean his upper body against the side of the car. According to media reports, it took more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Three days later, Nichols died in hospital.
His mother, RowVauhn Wells, told Sky News: “I hate the fact that it was five black men who did this to another black man.” The officers brought shame on their families and the black community, she added on CNN. A board member of the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter said anyone who works in a system that is anti-black and uses state-sanctioned violence is complicit in perpetuating white supremacy.
In Los Angeles, a group of demonstrators gathered in front of police headquarters on Friday evening, the Los Angeles Times reported. Police officers in protective gear and with batons confronted them. Hundreds of people took to the streets in New York. Three demonstrators were arrested, the NBC broadcaster reported, citing the police. Other protests on Saturday were peaceful. Demonstrations also took place in other major cities such as Boston, Atlanta and Detroit.
Nichols’ case is often compared to the attack on Rodney King. King was brutally beaten by police in Los Angeles in 1991. He survived badly injured. According to a survey by the Washington Post, more than 1,100 people have been killed by police using firearms in the United States in the past twelve months alone.