Ben Crump: 'This video is a watershed moment for America'

Ben Crump with the family of Tyre Nichols.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks at a news conference with the family of Tyre Nichols last week. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
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Ben Crump, the attorney for Tyre Nichols family, said Sunday that Nichols' mother RowVaughn Wells is still coming to terms with her son's death.

"It's still very emotional. His mother is having problems sleeping," Crump said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"But she continues to pray with the understanding, as she believes in her heart, Tyre was sent here for an assignment," he continued. "And there's going to be greater good that comes from this tragedy."

On Friday night, Memphis authorities released the shocking video of five police officers brutally assaulting 29-year-old Nichols after a Jan. 7 traffic stop. The 67 minutes of surveillance and police body cam footage shows a chaotic night in which the officers chase Nichols, punch him, spray him with pepper spray, and continue both physical and verbal abuse as Nichols grows increasingly limp.

On Jan. 10, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Nichols “succumbed to his injuries” and died.

Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has represented families in numerous high-profile cases of young Black men being killed by police, said Sunday that the video would be a watershed moment for the country. He compared the footage to the infamous video of Los Angeles Police Department officers beating Rodney King during a 1991 traffic stop.

"This is such a difficult video on many levels. The fact that it happened in Memphis, Tenn., the place where Dr. Martin Luther King was slain," Crump recalled Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union.”

"When we first saw it before America saw it, we said that it's going to remind people of the Rodney King video. ... And that was a watershed moment for America. And I believe this video is a watershed moment for America. The only question that remains is how much progress have we made from [the] Rodney King video, to 2023, with Tyre Nichols’ tragic video. And what are national leaders going to do?"

The five Memphis police officers were fired and charged with second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 60 years in prison if they are convicted. The officers were part of the Memphis Police Department's so-called Scorpion unit, which targets high-crime neighborhoods; on Saturday the police chief disbanded that unit because of the incident’s “cloud of dishonor.”

Crump said he spoke to President Biden when the commander in chief called Nichols's family. He said he urged Biden to get behind federal police reform legislation like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which expands oversight of officers and departments, bans police chokeholds, and many among other measures.

“Without federal police reform,” Crump said, “I think we're going to continue to see these hashtags proliferate so much that we can’t keep up with them.”

Stuffed animals, flowers and a balloon were placed as a memorial near the camera that documented the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.
A makeshift memorial was placed where Tyre Nichols was beaten by police in Memphis. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

It's unclear if there will be any bipartisan momentum in Congress for the type of federal police reform that Crump is calling for.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the upper chamber, said Sunday that his colleagues should return to negotiations over federal police reform legislation. “We need a national conversation,” he told ABC.

But Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, downplayed the need for sweeping federal action. He called for reforms and oversight to be primarily conducted at the local level.

"I don't know that there's any law that can stop that evil that we saw," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There's some things we can look at," he added. "But it's just a difference, I think, in philosophy. The Democrats always think that it's a new law that's going to fix something that terrible."