Hamilton County groups, officials react to Tyre Nichols incident and footage

Photo/Desiree Rios/The New York Times / Citizens gather in protest in Memphis on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, after video was released of police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who later died.

Hamilton County organizations and Tennessee elected officials Monday continued to issue statements in response to the release of footage last week showing Memphis man Tyre Nichols being beaten by police officers.

Many groups and elected leaders have condemned the actions of the officers, five of whom have been charged with second-degree murder, and advocated for a full and thorough investigation into the fatal encounter.

The Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP on Monday commended Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis for responding quickly.

"The NAACP is an advocate for the rights of the people and invite others to join with us in the advocacy work in our community," the group's statement said. "To start, there should exist an active community oversight board with subpoena power. Individuals should make calls to the state and national representatives demanding that appropriate changes must be made to have an acceptable law enforcement culture. Finally, exercise your right to cast a vote at the ballot box to elect those who truly work for the people."

The county chapter also joined calls from the Tennessee NAACP for national and state laws that would set "enforceable standards for law enforcement."

(READ MORE: 6th Memphis officer relieved of duty in Nichols arrest)

"Qualified immunity for any group that has life and death in their hands should not exist," the statement said, referring to a legal doctrine often used to protect officers from personal liability for breaking the law while on the job.

The Tennessee NAACP called the officers' actions "despicable, excessive, callous and unjustified."

"No one should be viciously beaten to death over an alleged traffic violation," the state organization said in a Thursday statement.

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, including Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, expressed "utter disbelief" at the beating and said the officers' arrest "cannot overshadow the inhumanity of the tragic event."

"We will keep a close eye on the city of Memphis and hold leaders accountable for swift justice to this tragic situation," the caucus' statement said Monday. "The fact that all the officers involved are African American exemplifies a police culture that corrupts and breeds violence on innocent citizens. This is evidence of an institution that requires the desperate need for sincere reform.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga police chief, mayor issue statements before release of Tyre Nichols video)

"We support our law-abiding law enforcement officers, but still have deep concerns about our system of policing. We will work tirelessly to root out those individuals in law enforcement with nefarious motives," the statement said.

The Unity Group of Chattanooga called the Memphis killing a 21st century lynching in a statement Friday, calling for peace and healing for Nichols' family and for the officers to be brought to justice.

(READ MORE: Tyre Nichols case revives calls for change in police culture)

The group said that though many law enforcement agencies across the nation, including Memphis police, enacted reforms after the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in 2020, Nichols' death shows the need for "a concerted and continuous effort to align law enforcement policies, practices and procedures into that which supports the general welfare and stands for the public good."

"On a local level, we do applaud some of the more practical measures to come out of the George Floyd demonstrations, which includes duty to intervene and the need to give warning before firing a weapon," the group's statement said. "This was the result of the calls to action and accountability made by the citizen advocates on the ground who exercised their constitutional right to be heard."

(READ MORE: Memphis beating video puts spotlight on first police account)

Republican U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty both said in statements they would be praying for Nichols' family and keep in contact with community, state and federal officials while investigations are ongoing. Blackburn called the footage "difficult to watch" in a statement issued Friday.

"The criminal justice system must swiftly pursue accountability," Hagerty said in a Friday release. "I echo Gov. (Bill) Lee in urging a full, independent investigation to determine what happened and how to prevent such misconduct from ever happening again. My priority remains the community of Memphis and its citizens during this difficult time."

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.