Crowd marches in uptown Charlotte to protest fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police

More than 80 people marched in uptown Charlotte on Saturday afternoon to protest the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police officers in the city of Memphis.

“How many more are going to die?” Tim Emry asked fellow demonstrators who’d gathered outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse before marching with placards to CMPD headquarters.

“Do we stand up when Black kills Black?” asked Melissa Funderburk, a longtime community organizer in Charlotte. “It doesn’t matter that it was Black skin in the blue. The point is a mother is crying. It’s not OK for them to be killing Black men and women.”

Just before 1 p.m., the crowd of people, both Black and white, started to gather at the courthouse entrance.

Melissa Funderburk protests outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2022. A crowd of 50 gathered to protest the fatal beating by police of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.
Melissa Funderburk protests outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2022. A crowd of 50 gathered to protest the fatal beating by police of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings stood quietly on the periphery of the gathering, along with several other officers.

Demonstrator Tiawana Brown also addressed the crowd: “What are we going to do to change this? There are a lot of good officers. But the bad officers are really bad.”

Charlotte activist Kass Ottley said she found it hard to watch the video that shows police brutally beating Nichols. “I’m tired of the victimization of our people,” she told her fellow demonstrators. “...We don’t have any more cheeks to turn.”

Charlotte NAACP leader Corine Mack told the protesters: “White supremacists taught Black people very well. Now we’re doing it to our own.”

“Stop Murdering Black People”

As the group prepared to march from the courthouse to police headquarters, Mack cautioned them:

“We’re not going to be breaking any windows,” she said. “Not on my watch.”

Marching peacefully down the middle of Fourth Street, protesters broke out in chants.

“Send those killer cops to jail,” they said. “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

“We want freedom, freedom. All those killer cops, we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em.”

About a dozen Charlotte police officers quietly accompanied the protesters.

Several in the crowd held enlarged photos of Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who died several days after he was beaten by Memphis police during a Jan. 7 traffic stop.

Many of the marchers held placards. “Stop Murdering Black People,” read one. “Hold Cops Accountable,” read another.

Man describes beating by police

The crowd later marched to Marshall Park, where Charlotte resident Rory Pegram told demonstrators that he learned firsthand what it’s like to be beaten by police.

Pegram said he was walking to his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, late one night in 1988 when police mistook him for a suspect they were searching for.

The officers threw him to the ground, he said, and a fight ensued. He later woke up in a jail cell with fractured ribs and a dislocated shoulder, he said.

“I’m not giving up on the police,” he said. “We need them. It’s the system. Anyone could be susceptible to what happened to Mr. Nichols.”

March organizers encouraged the crowd to return for another demonstration at Marshall Park at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Police release video

On Friday, the city of Memphis released video from body cameras that shows several officers kicking, punching and using a baton on Nichols, who later died. At one point, an officer punched him at least five times in the head while another officer held his hands behind his back. The videos give no indication that Nichols fought back.

The five officers involved in the beating, who were all Black, were charged on Thursday with murder. The Memphis Police Department fired them all last week.

The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were released from jail Friday after posting bail.

The Nichols family has called on the Memphis Police Department to disband the special street crimes unit that the officers belonged to, according to a lawyer representing the family.

During a Jan. 7 traffic stop, police shouted expletives at Nichols, pulled him from his car and attempted to pin him to the ground, the video shows. “OK! I am on the ground,” Nichols told officers. Soon afterward, an officer appeared to use a stun gun on him. He broke free and ran, with officers in pursuit.

Another video, taken minutes later after officers caught him, shows an officer kicking Nichols in the head after officers pushed him to the ground. Then another officer struck him with a baton. After Nichols stood up, an officer punched him in the head at least five times before he fell to the ground.

Police initially said Nichols had been stopped because he’d been suspected of reckless driving. But the police chief later told CNN there was no proof the FedEx worker had been driving recklessly.

The family’s legal team likened the assault to the 1991 Los Angeles Police beating of Rodney King, according to the Associated Press.

But the Nichols family called on protesters to remain peaceful

Remembering Keith Lamont Scott

In a statement, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said: “Our community has not been immune to these issues that this terrible incident once again brings to the forefront.”

On Sept. 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by police in the parking lot of an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte. The shooting sparked marches, demonstrations and violence.

In 2020, Charlotte activists and community members joined nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Also Saturday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Twitter called Nichols’ beating “senseless and inhumane,” “infuriating and a blatant abuse of authority.”

In Raleigh, more than 100 demonstrators marched by the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the Raleigh Police Department, The News & Observer reported.