Canadian police chiefs speak out on death of Black man beaten by U.S. officers
Canadian police chiefs condemned on Friday the death of a Black man who was savagely beaten by police during a traffic stop in the United States, saying the officers involved must be held accountable.
The condemnation of the actions that led to Tyre Nichols’ death came as authorities in Memphis, Tenn., released a video of what happened.
The footage shows officers holding Nichols down and striking him repeatedly as he screamed for his mother.
After the beating, officers milled about for several minutes while Nichols lay propped up against a car, then slumped onto the street.
Nichols died three days after the Jan. 7 confrontation. The officers, all of whom are Black, were charged Thursday with murder and other crimes.
Chief Myron Demkiw of the Toronto Police Service offered sincere condolences to Nichols’ family and friends. He said the actions of the officers in Memphis will have long-standing impacts on communities in Toronto and would have a disproportionate effect on some members of the Black community.
“I am profoundly saddened by the murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee,” Demkiw said in a post on Twitter. “On behalf of the Toronto Police Service, I condemn the violent actions of the officers involved.”
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police called the circumstances of Nichols’ death “horrific and highly disturbing,” and offered condolences to his loved ones.
“(Officers’) duties must always be done in a manner that is transparent, professional, and upholds the high standards of policing as a profession,” the association said in a statement. “Every officer understands that they are accountable for their actions.”
The Ottawa Police Service said Nichols’ death and similar tragedies destabilize communities and undermine trust in police across North America.
“Nichols’ death, like so many before him, is tragic,” Ottawa police said. “We join in the calls for justice, and we support the steps being taken to fully investigate the incident and hold the individuals accountable.”
The chiefs of Peel police, Windsor police and Regina police also issued statements to condemn the actions of the officers charged in Nichols’ death.
Peel police chief Nishan Duraiappah said the death of Nichols was “deeply disturbing,” and that his thoughts were with the man’s family and community.
Windsor police chief Jason Bellaire said Nichols’ death and similar events affect “police credibility” globally, and it will take the police a long time to rebuild relationships and restore trust with the community.
He said his force will work with any community groups that want to plan peaceful protests in response to Nichols’ death.
Regina police chief Evan Bray called the death of Nichols “tragic and unnecessary” in a video posted on Twitter.
Bray said he reached out to leaders from his city’s Black community to express his sympathy and noted that Nichols’ death brings up “all kinds of heartache and trauma.”
The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police said the video of Nichols being beaten by the officers in Memphis is disturbing and the association is shaken by what it saw.
“What happened in Memphis, and the death of Tyre Nichols is a failure to uphold the basic human rights that every citizen is entitled to,” the association said in a release late Friday.
“Police officers take an oath to serve and protect, and so we understand that when there is an appalling incident like this, policing as an institution comes under increased scrutiny. We denounce the egregious use of force on anyone in the community.”
The association said the death of Tyre may be especially triggering for the Black communities it serves.
“We categorically condemn the actions that resulted in the senseless loss of a life.”
The Edmonton Police Service called the death of Nichols a tragedy and said what happened in Memphis does not reflect police work in any form.
“There is no avoiding that the five officers, now charged with second-degree murder and other charges, were on duty when they committed this act,” the service said in an email.
“EPS (Edmonton Police Service) supports the swift and decisive action taken by the Memphis police in seeking justice for Mr. Nichols and his family.”
Given the likelihood of protests, Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis said she and other local officials decided it would be best to release the video later in the day, after schools were dismissed and people were home from work.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peaceful protests.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools cancelled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company’s community offices and the University of Memphis.
Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.
Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over Nichols’ arrest.
— With files from The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.
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