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5 ex-Memphis officers are charged with the murder of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols


Today, authorities plan to release a video that will show what happened to 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. And the city, Memphis, is bracing for what may come next. Already, five former police officers are under indictment on second-degree murder charges and other crimes in the beating death of Nichols. He died January 10, three days after what police called a, quote, "confrontation" during a traffic stop. Those who've seen the video have used words like horrific. Last night, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil, again asking for change within the Memphis Police Department.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Justice for Tyre. Justice for Tyre. Justice for Tyre.

FADEL: NPR's Debbie Elliott was at the vigil, and she's on the line now. Hi, Debbie.


FADEL: So what's it like in Memphis right now?

ELLIOTT: You know, tense, as you might imagine. Lots of questions about just what went wrong here. How did this FedEx worker and father of a 4-year-old end up dead because of a traffic stop? At last night's vigil which was held at a skate park - Tyre Nichols was an avid skateboarder - you know, speaker after speaker just seemed weary to be talking about the death of another Black man after an encounter with law enforcement. Now, we should mention that all of the ex-officers who were indicted in this case are also Black. At the vigil last night, Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, asked the community to remain peaceful in their outcry when they see what happened.


ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I didn't see it, but from what I hear, it's going to be horrific. But I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. I don't want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets...


WELLS: ...Because that's not what my son stood for.

FADEL: What do we know about exactly what's in that video?

ELLIOTT: Well, it will cover the span of about three minutes using both bodycam, dashcam and some surveillance video. And, you know, the people who have seen it describe it as particularly brutal - acts that defy humanity, according to the Memphis police chief, Cerelyn C.J. Davis. She was on CNN today and said that the officers were overly aggressive from the get-go when they stopped Tyre Nichols. They used loud communications, and things only escalated from there.

CERELYN C J DAVIS: Mr. Nichols was able to get away from these officers, and they found him again at another location. And at that point, there was an amount of aggression that is unexplainable.

ELLIOTT: Something she attributed to groupthink among the officers. Now, because of the nature of the videos, police plan to release them this evening after businesses and schools are closed. After-school activities like ballgames and things have been canceled. Both here in Memphis and in some other cities, officials have been preparing for potential unrest because this might be so difficult to look at.

FADEL: Now, in the few seconds we have left, they've - residents are calling for reform in the police department.

ELLIOTT: Right. They want to completely overhaul the way policing works here - no longer using police for traffic enforcement, for example, and eliminating special task forces that send teams of officers into neighborhoods. The fired officers charged in this case were part of a task force known as the SCORPION squad. Police Chief Davis says there will be a complete and independent review of the department's specialized units.

FADEL: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.

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