Friday, January 27, 2023

Vicious beatings in Memphis and Arkansas, both caught on graphic videos, likely will push America's problem with police brutality back into headlines

Tyre Nichols in a Memphis hospital after police beating.

If you have been feeling a sense of relief that stories about police misconduct, often involving use of deadly or damaging excessive force, have become less prominent on America's new pages than they were a few years back, you might want to brace yourself. That's because today marks the likely beginning of a new era in coverage of police abuse, driven by two cases that already have begun to make headlines this week. Both cases involve brutal beatings that were captured, at least in part, on video, and both victims were males in their late 20s. From there, the facts of the cases diverge, but both involve disturbing images that do not easily leave the mind -- giving the impression that some cops are glorified street thugs, more than "officers of the law."

Those images, starting today, likely will drive wall-to-wall coverage that might even move Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene off the front pages, at least for a while. One of the beatings might spark explosive news coverage, even civil unrest -- and it could eventually overtake the 2020 police murder of George Floyd as the most widely covered police-related fatality in American history.

That's the case of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was beaten to death after a traffic stop in Memphis, TN, earlier this month. Video of the beating is expected to be released this afternoon (about 6 p.m., central time), prompting headlines like this: "Memphis braces for release of video footage in Tyre Nichols beating." 

All five officers involved in the Nichols death have been fired and charged with second-degree murder. Much remains unknown about how a traffic stop turned deadly, but The Hill provides a summary of what is known at this point:

The city of Memphis, Tenn., is bracing for potential civil unrest with the release of video footage of the beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after a traffic stop earlier this month.

On Thursday, five former Memphis Police officers involved in the incident were charged with second-degree murder and other offenses. All five men, who are all Black, were fired from the department. Video footage is expected to be released publicly Friday.

Release of the Nichols video comes on the heels of reports this week about a similar episode in the tiny hamlet of Mulberry, AR (pop. 1,655), which is on the northwest edge of the state, near Fort Smith.

One incident unfolded in an urban environment, while the other happened in a distinctly rural locale. All of those involved in the Memphis beating were Black, while all those involved in Mulberry were White. The biggest difference is that the Memphis case led to a fatality, while the Mulberry victim lived. Both produced videos revealing cop behavior that might be described as "egregious," even "sickening." From  a report this week at CBS News about the Arkansas beating of 27-year-old Randal Worcester::

        Two former Arkansas sheriff deputies are being charged with federal civil            rights offenses for allegedly using excessive force during a police arrest of a         man at a gas station in Mulberry, Arkansas, the Justice Department                        announced Wednesday.

A grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Crawford County, Arkansas, Sheriff's Deputies Levi White and Zackary King, alleging that White repeatedly hit 27-year-old Randal Worcester of Goose Creek, South Carolina, during the Aug. 21, 2022, incident and King hit Worcester multiple times while he was lying on the ground. 

        "Randal is very happy," his attorney Rachel Bussett told CBS News. "He is         grateful to see that the Department of Justice is pursuing charges against the         officers."

A video, taken by a bystander, has provided critical evidence, although police sources say other video -- unseen, so far, by the public -- provides additional evidence that is favorable to the officers. From CBS News. (A video of the incident can be viewed by clicking this link.):

       Video of the arrest shows three officers repeatedly striking Worcester, and          slamming his head into the pavement. One officer repeatedly strikes                     Worcester with a closed fist while another knees him several times in the             lower body.

      The officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside a           Kountry Xpress gas station in the small town of Mulberry, about 140 miles           northwest of Little Rock, near the border with Oklahoma, authorities said. In        a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in August, Worcester said he was riding his        bicycle back to his home in Goose Greek, South Carolina, according to court        documents — more than 900 miles away. Originally from Oklahoma,                  Worcester is temporarily living in South Carolina as he is homeless and              struggles with mental health issues, said his attorney. He was taking a bicycle       trip but it is not clear how he arrived in Arkansas, said his attorney.

     He had stopped and asked the gas station attendant for water, and the                    attendant became angry and called the police, court documents said.

     Worcester had allegedly made "terroristic threats" against a gas station                 employee, police said, and threatened to cut off the employee's face. He then      left and biked around seven miles before police caught him, police said.

What happened next? That remains unclear:

Worcester surrendered a knife and then "football tackled" one of the deputies and punched him in the back of the head, police said. None of the officers were wearing body cameras.

If convicted of the excessive force charges, White and King face up to 10 years in prison.

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