Sacramento community leaders on Friday called for peaceful protests and more scrutiny of law enforcement as Memphis, Tennessee, authorities released disturbing video of a Black man repeatedly beaten by that city's police officers.
Tyre Nichols, 29, was beaten by five Memphis Police Department officers earlier this month following a traffic stop. Nichols was severely injured during the Jan. 7 confrontation with police and died of his injuries Jan. 10.
Nichols grew up in Sacramento and still has family in the area who are planning a candlelight vigil in North Natomas on Monday.
The NAACP's Greater Sacramento chapter hosted a news conference Friday outside City Hall in downtown Sacramento, hours before the videos were released. Betty Williams, president of the local NAACP chapter, said videos from this incident, like the others that came before, will make many people angry.
"What we're looking to have today is a peaceful, non-violent protest," Williams said at the news conference. "It's nothing wrong with sharing your voice. It's nothing wrong with being angry, because we're all angry."
'We want justice in this process'
Nichols' family and the NAACP urged calm and called for peaceful protests as they awaited the release of the footage, which was made available at 4 p.m. local time. Nichols' siblings, Jamal Dupree and Keyana Dixon, were among several family members and friends who attended the Sacramento briefing in support of the NAACP. Nichols' family did not speak at the news conference.
Prosecutors on Thursday announced that the five involved officers, all of whom are Black, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and other crimes. The officers - Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith - were fired by the Police Department last week.
"I'm angry that five black officers really murdered this young kid," Williams told reporters. "I'm angry about that."
The Greater Sacramento NAACP chapter applauded the Memphis district attorney and police chief "for swiftly investigating, arresting, and charging the officers related to this heinous act." But the group said it would watch closely to see whether standards of accountability are applied consistently across racial lines in the United States.
"I'm thinking this is truly the model that should be standard, regardless whether they were five Black officers or five white officers," Williams told reporters. "It doesn't bring Tyree back. But we want justice in this process."
She said regardless of the race of the officer, anyone who joins the police force is indoctrinated to the traditions and practices of that system. Williams said that's "the nature of white supremacy culture - it lives in systems unless we actively change the structure and cultures of those systems."
"If just one officer would've said 'Let's stop.' If just one officer would've said 'We did too much.' If just one officer would've said 'Let's back off and call an ambulance,' Williams said. "If just one officer had a heart, just one, that's all (Nichols) needed to live another day."
Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark's brother, spoke during Friday's news conference in Sacramento and organized a peaceful rally outside the nearby California state Capitol building later that afternoon. The demonstration included a small group of protesters and ended about an hour after it started.
At the news conference, Stevante Clark urged California lawmakers to pass a duty-to-intervene law that requires officers to step-in and stop all acts of police brutality.
"A law that says officers cannot just sit there and simply watch other officers use excessive force against our community," Clark told reporters. "Your silence is compliance."
Sacramento candlelight vigil for Nichols
Nichols moved to Memphis from Sacramento in 2020 to be closer to his mother, according to Berry Accius, a Sacramento activist and found of Voice of the Youth.
Friends and family members of Nichols in the Sacramento area are planning a candlelight vigil Monday evening at Regency Park's skate park in North Natomas. Nichols was an avid skateboarder.
"The family is very satisfied with the process, with the police chief, the D.A. - they acted very, very quickly in this case," Nichols' father, Rodney Wells, said during a Friday morning news conference led by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and Memphis-area community leaders. We do not want any type of disturbance. We want peaceful protests. That's what the family wants. That's what the community wants."
Sacramento became a national focal point of protests and calls for law enforcement reform after the fatal police shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark in March 2018.
California's capital city also was the site of weeks of large protests in the summer of 2020. Hundreds of thousands nationwide outraged over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police marched in the streets demanding an end to systemic racism and police excessive force.
Tecoy Porter, president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Action Network, said Nichols' death stirs strong emotions within Black and Latino communities that have experienced acts of police excessive force before. He said it "stings" that Black officers have done this, but it's also an indication that there's some type of police aggression when they go into these communities.
"I believe what most Black and Brown communities are hearing in their minds: 'Again. This is happening again,'" Porter told reporters. "Police brutality in Black and Brown communities."
Federal, state and local law enforcement officials in a news release offered their condolences and support to Nichols' family. Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho said he is "saddened and troubled" by Nichols' death.
"Understandably, there is deep pain and anger within our community. We have learned that violence and destruction only harms and divides us," Ho said in the news release. "With charges filed in the death of Mr. Nichols, I ask that our community respect the Shelby County criminal justice process."
Sacramento Police Chief Kathy Lester said the right to protest peacefully "is sacred and will be protected."
"I share the same concerns as those echoed throughout our nation and our law enforcement community," Lester said in the news release. "I know we can have tough conversations while finding a path forward together."
Sheriff Jim Cooper also asked everyone who chooses to exercise to protest to express their feelings peacefully.
"We will work together with our law enforcement partners to protect everyone's First Amendment rights," Cooper said in the news release, 'while keeping the peace and protecting our community."
California police reform
California Assembly Bill 392, signed into law in August 2019, strengthened the deadly force standard from "reasonable" to "necessary." It was shaped by a string of deadly encounters between law enforcement officers and unarmed Black men, including the shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police.
In June 2021, the Sacramento City Council adopted a new use of deadly force policy for police with language that reads: "A peace officer is justified in using deadly force upon another person only as a last resort when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or are not feasible and the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that such force is necessary."
"We all should be furious that public servants trusted to protect life and the community would treat a fellow human being so cruelly," Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at the news conference. "This is another blow to our black community. There are too many black victims, too many black young men whose lives are taken without cause or reason. No matter how many times we say Black Lives matter, these actions continue to say otherwise."
"I share the same concerns as those echoed throughout our nation and our law enforcement community," Lester said. "The right to protest peacefully is sacred and will be protected. I know we can have tough conversations while finding a path forward together."
The NAACP supported Clark's family and the changes in accountability standards with AB 392. But the organization is calling for further policy changes that will reinvent policing culture, including the roles, practices and training of law enforcement officials.
"Despite best efforts of de-escalation training programs," Sacramento NAACP Vice President Tijuana Barnes said, "officers are trained to use the power of their badge and gun before responding with active care and humanity."