Skip to main content

Tyre Nichols: Bay Area activists, leaders express pain and grief

San Francisco police officers kneel after a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters called for them to ‘take a knee’ during a rally protesting the police killing of George Floyd in front of a police station on June 3, 2020. | Josh Edelson/Getty Images

Protests and vigils honoring 29-year-old Tyre Nichols—who grew up in Sacramento where he was an active member of the skateboarding community—have sprung up around Northern California and the U.S. after Friday’s release of bodycam footage showing five Memphis police officers beating Nichols during a traffic stop on Jan. 7—an incident that led to his death three days later.

The Anti-Police Terror Project announced a rally and march to demand police get out of traffic enforcement that will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday at Oscar Grant Plaza, aka Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, outside City Hall in Downtown Oakland.

The event will happen roughly 48 hours after a 5 p.m. Friday protest drew dozens of demonstrators to San Francisco’s Powell Street cable-car turnaround, who gathered to march down Market Street. Similar rallies occurred in New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Local NAACP Calls Out White Supremacy

Ahead of Friday’s footage release, the Greater Sacramento NAACP held a press conference at Sacramento City Hall. 

In a statement, the NAACP chapter said, “We weep with the community here as we add the name Tyre Nichols, another local Black man killed by a system rooted in white supremacy. The 29-year-old father, brother, cousin, friend and son was a beloved free spirit who called Sacramento his home until his move to Memphis, TN in 2020.”

Demonstrators march through downtown protesting the death of Tyre Nichols on Jan., 28, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Aside from skateboarding, Nichols, a father of a young son, was a music lover with diverse tastes who also regularly posted about sports and his social justice concerns—including his support of Black Lives Matter—on social media, according to reporting by the New York Times. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, told the paper he in particular loved to practice amateur photography, often going out to shoot sunsets and then posting his images on his Wix website.

On Thursday, five Memphis police officers, all Black men, were charged in connection with the case on counts of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. The officers—Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith—were also fired by the department last week.

The Greater Sacramento NAACP stated that it “applauded the Memphis District Attorney and police chief for swiftly investigating, arresting, and charging the officers related to this heinous act. However, we continue to watch closely to see whether these standards of civil servant accountability are applied consistently across racial lines in the U.S.”

“When anyone joins that system, regardless of the race of that officer, they are indoctrinated to the traditions and practices of that system to maintain the status quo regardless of the person’s intent,” said Betty Williams, the chapter’s president. “That’s the nature of white supremacy culture—it lives in the systems unless we actively change the culture and structures of those systems.”

Sacramento, like San Francisco and Oakland, has been the center of police brutality protests in the recent past. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392, which was prompted by the police killing of 22-year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento in 2018. AB 392, which was authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, prohibits California police officers from firing on suspects who are running away if they don’t present an immediate danger.

San Francisco Officials Issue Statements

San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott poses for a portrait in the SFPD headquarters at 1251 3rd Street, San Francisco, Calif., on Monday October 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard
San Francisco Police Chief William 'Bill' Scott. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Since Fridays’ footage release, multiple Bay Area police organizations and local officials have released statements condemning the police violence that led to Nichols’ death.

“The actions of the Memphis police officers that resulted in the tragic death of Tyre Nichols are horrific and inhumane,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed wrote in a statement Friday evening. “We are angry and disgusted by yet another senseless loss of life of an unarmed black man at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect all people.”

“What I, and everyone else, saw on the video images reflect a disregard for the sanctity of human life and is the antithesis of the oath we as law enforcement professionals were all sworn to uphold,” said SF Police Chief Bill Scott in a video posted Friday. “This incident, again, raises the pervasive issue that has occurred for generations—and continues to occur—regarding using force on people of color, specifically Black and Brown men.

“Those of us who have chosen policing as a profession all have a responsibility to make the difficult and courageous decisions necessary to change this narrative for the better,” he continued. “This incident […] underscores the importance of San Francisco Police Department’s work on policy and training revisions; reducing disparities in stops, arrests and uses of force; and reducing nonlethal and lethal force to fulfill the promise of bias-free and equitable policing.”

The data-science website Police Scorecard reports that between 2013 and 2021, San Francisco police killed 21 people, and civilians made 3,966 complaints of police misconduct. 

“Based on population, a Black person was 9.7x as likely and a Latinx person was 4.3x as likely to be killed by police as a White person in San Francisco from 2013-21,” the website states about San Francisco.

Police officer unions from San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and the state of Hawaii came together to put out a statement on Friday condemning the actions of the Memphis cops and pledging to work with Congress to create national policing standards regarding use of force and training on de-escalation, intervention and rendering aid. 

Police unions, historically, have shielded police from accountability and made it difficult to punish cops who engage in misconduct and to enact reform, according to a 2020 analysis by the Washington Post.