After body camera footage of Tyre Nichols was publicly released on Friday night, President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and deeply pained” by the actions of former Memphis police officers who beat Nichols to death.
“We must do everything in our power to ensure our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all,” Biden said in a White House statement. “Real and lasting change will only come if we take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”
Hours before the release of the body camera footage, Biden called the parents of Nichols and civil rights attorney Ben Crump to extend his condolences.
During the 20-minute call with Nichols’ parents, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, on the tragic loss of their 29-year-old son, Biden also invited the grieving parents to visit the White House at a later date, Crump confirmed to theGrio.
According to Crump, the president talked about his personal experiences with grief, losing his wife and children after a deadly car crash in 1972 and later his son Beau Biden in 2015. Mrs. Wells expressed to Biden her grief over the loss of her son and told him that God “took him home” and was “using him as an assignment.” She told the president, “even though it is painful, I know something good is going to come out of this.”
As the country anticipated the release of the body camera footage of the now-terminated five officers accused of brutalizing and killing Nichols, the White House and his family have called for calm and peaceful protests as tensions yet again boil over across the nation over repeated instances of police brutality and deadly outcomes in Black and brown communities.
Since early this week, the White House had been preparing for the release of what was described as “horrific” body camera footage. White House senior advisors talked to mayors across the country to reinforce the message of peace in the event there were demonstrations stemming from the video’s release.
Crump warned the video would elicit “strong emotion,” describing the officers displaying “excessive cursing” and “excessive brutality.” Crump noted the contrast in the “humanity” of Tyre who “never used profane language back to them.”
“It’s so telling that he was a good kid,” he added.
Crump said the president has the opportunity to push the United States Congress to refocus their efforts on passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which lost steam when Republicans refused to support stepped-up measures that would hold police more legally accountable for misconduct.
On Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that in absence of Congress passing the Floyd bill, President Biden last year signed executive orders to establish some reform measures on the federal level. “He took executive actions and used the tools in front of him to move the conversation forward to move the ball forward on dealing with an issue that is devastating communities,” Jean-Pierre told theGrio. However, Biden’s executive orders are limited in scope and do very little on the state and local levels.
The Biden spokesperson said the president would continue to call on Congress to act. When asked to react to the frustration in Black communities over a pattern of deadly police encounters, Jean-Pierre acknowledged, “this type of violence is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities.” She added, “We understand the outrage that the community has.”
Any effort to introduce a vote on the Floyd bill in the current 118th Congress will have to happen in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it would likely never move in a Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives. In the previous 117th Congress, the legislation was introduced and passed by Democrats in the House. It was sponsored by then-U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who is now the new mayor of Los Angeles, California.
In a statement, Congressional Black Caucus Chair, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said that the group of Black lawmakers on Capitol Hill “remain committed to finding legislative solutions to address the systemic issue arising from law enforcement engagement with all communities.” He added, “We must ensure that police officers who use excessive force and act outside of their legal authority are held accountable through the criminal legal system.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., told theGrio that the Tyre Nichols case was an abuse of force and an act of “self-hate” as the five officers charged in this death are all Black.
The Nichols video has been deemed worse than a similar video of Rodney King, an unarmed Black man, who was brutally beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991.
“I still remember sitting in this office here in the Congress the day that Rodney King got beat and just had all of his rights violated, explaining to my youngest son at the time that I didn’t understand,” recalled Congressman Mfume, who previously served as president of the NAACP.
He said he finds it “peculiar” that the officers involved in Tyre Nichols’ death behaved the way that they did when “there’s a camera everywhere … and the social media moves that at lightning speed.” He added, “Why would you put yourself in a situation where you’re doing something that is clearly wrong and violent, and assume then that people are not going to call for your head?”
As President Biden left the White House Friday night and headed to Camp David, he told reporters that he’s “very concerned” about potential violence in the days to come. When asked what’s at stake, he said, “It has a lot to do with the image of America.”
TheGrio’s Gerren Keith Gaynor contributed to this report.
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