President Joe Biden said he joins the family of Tyre Nichols in calling for peaceful protest after five Memphis, Tennessee, police officers were charged with the 29-year-old’s murder.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”
The officers charged with Nichols’ murder pulled him over in a traffic stop on Jan. 7. According to his family, Nichols fled the scene because he feared for his life, but the officers caught up with him and beat him for three minutes. The family’s attorney says police body camera footage shows the officers using pepper spray, a stun gun and restraint tactics on Nichols. He was eventually taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.
A photo of Nichols ― a young Black man, father and FedEx employee ― released earlier this month showed him in a hospital bed with bruising and other injuries so severe that he was “unrecognizable,” his family said. An independent autopsy found that Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” family attorney Benjamin Crump said.
The officers charged in Nichols’ death are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmit Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, who are all Black men who have been with the department at least two years. The former four have all been charged with one count of second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, one count of official oppression, one count of aggravated assault and two counts of aggravated kidnapping. Smith received the same charges, but the counts were doubled.
In his statement, Biden said law enforcement officers must be held accountable when they violate their oath. He also called on Congress to send him the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ― a police reform bill aimed at increasing accountability for law enforcement misconduct and restricting certain policing practices, including racial profiling.
“Public trust is the foundation of public safety and there are still too many places in America today where the bonds of trust are frayed or broken,” Biden said in the statement. “Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.”
Biden, who vowed to advance police reform during his campaign, signed an executive order on the matter last year that includes a new national database tracking police misconduct and a ban on chokeholds ― but both only apply to federal law enforcement agents. While the country’s 18,000 local police forces are encouraged to follow suit, there’s little to enforce that, police reform advocates say.
Since media outlets began tracking police killings in 2015, The Guardian noted, those deaths still hover at around 1,100 a year and haven’t decreased.