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Police deactivate unit of Memphis officers involved in fatal beating

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Protesters march in Memphis, Tennessee on January 28, 2023 during a rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols./AFP
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Jan 29, 2023 - 11:47 PM

MEMPHIS, UNITED STATES — Memphis police on Saturday permanently deactivated the unit of the five officers who fatally beat a young Black man, the latest instance of police brutality to elicit nationwide calls for reform.

The shocking death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols has reopened anguished debate across the United States about officer violence, particularly after promises of reform swept the country following the death of another Black man, George Floyd, in 2020.

The five officers, who were also Black, had belonged to Memphis’ Scorpion unit, which was launched in November 2021 with the intent of reducing illegal activity in crime hotspots, including by blanketing those areas with more officers.

But on Saturday, the MPD said in a statement it was “in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit.”

“The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step,” it added.

Nichols’s family welcomed the decision in a statement from their lawyers, calling it “both appropriate and proportional to the tragic death of Tyre Nichols, and also a decent and just decision for all citizens of Memphis.”

“We hope that other cities take similar action with their saturation police units in the near future to begin to create greater trust in their communities,” the family added.

Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who created the unit, had previously told CNN it was at least initially successful, with reduced crime in 2022 following a record number of 345 homicides the prior year, a number which she said had prompted “an outcry from the community.”

The unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, had been intended “to reduce gun violence, to be visible in communities, and to also impact the rise in the crime,” she said.

Despite nationwide calls for police reform following Floyd’s death, the number of people who died during interactions with police hit a 10-year high in 2022, at 1,186 fatalities, according to the website Mapping Police Violence.

The officers involved in Nichols’s death face second-degree murder charges as well as indictments for aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping.

Even after the Friday release of graphic video showing the beating, some key questions remained unanswered, mainly what caused Nichols to be stopped.

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