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Tyre Nichols' death, and a mother's pain

Tyre Nichols' death, and a mother's pain
Tyre Nichols' death, and a mother's pain 06:44

If there's one thing about Tyre Nichols that says a lot about who he was as a man, it was the relationship he had with his mother, RowVaughn Wells. "He has a tattoo of my name on his arm," she said. "My son loved me to death, and I love him to death."

Tyre Nichols with his mother, RowVaughn Wells.  Family Photo

Nichols was a Sacramento, Calif., native. At 150 pounds he was a rail of a man. He was a father, too. He came to Memphis just before the pandemic locked the world down. He moved in with his mom and stepfather, and got a job at FedEx.

When the 29-year-old wasn't working, he kept up with his passions. Skateboarding was one of them, and so was photography. He had a talent for capturing sunsets, especially.

His friends say he was a free spirit who always wanted to be famous … but clearly not for the reason that made him so.

At a press conference Friday, Wells said, "No mother, no mother, no mother, should go through what I'm going though right now, no mother, lo lose their child to the violent way I lost my child."

RowVaughn Wells said she didn't watch the video of her son's beating, but the nation did.

It all started on January 7, when body cam video shows Nichols being yanked from his car.

Police Officer: "I'm fixin to taze you.  Get on the ground!"
Nichols: "Stop, okay, stop, alright, okay, dude, there it is."

The reason, say police? Reckless driving.

Nichols: "Okay, you guys are really doing a lot right now, I'm just trying to go home!"
Police: "Get on your stomach!"

We don't see what led up to the confrontation, but the responding officers are clearly angry. After the tussle, pepper spray, and more threats of tasing, Nichols got away.

Police found him not long after, about 100 yards from his mother's home, where he cried out to her for help.

Nichols: "Mom!! Mom!!"

"I was telling someone that I had this really bad pain in my stomach earlier, not knowing what had happened," Wells said. "But once I found out what happened, that was my son's pain that I was feeling. And I didn't even know."

A remotely-controlled camera mounted on a pole in the neighborhood captured perhaps the most violent moments... 

Officer: "I'm gonna baton the f*** out you."

There are plenty of places you can go to see what happened next: officers seem to take turns kicking, punching and beating Nichols with a baton. It's unrelenting. When they're done, he's dragged and propped up against a car. And then, they do nothing. Nothing to render aid to Nichols, and certainly don't offer him comfort.

The video shows one officer stopping to tie his shoe; another is trying to get his radio to work. There was laughing and cussing, all while Nichols was suffering life threatening injuries. 

It was a least 20 minutes before the ambulance even arrived.

Nichols died in the hospital three days later.

The last picture his mother has of him, is this:

Tyre Nichols died in the hospital three days after being beaten by police.  CBS News

Less than three weeks later, five officers, all of them Black, all of them part of a now-disbanded specialized street crimes unit called Scorpion, were fired and indicted for crimes, including second degree murder.

Officials later announced two Memphis Fire Department employees and two sheriff's deputies were also relieved of their duties.

That swift action, said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, was crucial. "This is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable," Crump said Friday.

The quick action against the officers may have also helped quell violent protests that so many feared would erupt in the wake of the video's release. There was outrage, to be sure, but it was mostly calm – just what Tyre Nichols' mom had asked for, and so did the president.

"It has a lot to say and do with the image of America," President Biden said Friday. "It has a lot to do with whether or not we are the country that we say we are."

Are we the same country we were in 1991, when Rodney King was savagely beaten?

Lora Dene King, his daughter, was only seven at the time. For her, Nichols' beating and death brought tears all over again. "That's sick to me, that's sick," said King. "That man was begging from jump, when they pulled him over he was begging. I can hear it in his voice; he knew he was going to die."

Federal investigators announced they're opening a civil rights case, focusing even more attention on police reform nationwide.

In the wake of George Floyd's murder in 2020, many departments changed their procedures, including banning chokeholds and increased training on de-escalation tactics.

And yet, according to one recent data analysis, police killed more people last year than any other year in the past decade. 

Crump said, "It is the culture. And we have to call out this culture every time we get a chance."

For Memphis, the death of a Black man at the hands of Black police officers is a new kind of pain. This was, after all, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated after a life of preaching against man's inhumanity to man.

Fifty-five years later, it seems we've still failed to heed his warning.

Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: Steven Tyler. 

See also: 

Charles Blow on Tyre Nichols' death, and America's shame 02:17

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