‘The life we live every day’: New Yorkers continue calls for justice for Tyre Nichols

For the second day in a row, New Yorkers took to the streets Saturday in protest of the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who was killed by Memphis police officers after a traffic stop on Jan. 7.

Body camera footage released Friday evening shows Black Memphis police officers beating a defenseless Nichols to death — an action which has sparked outcry and demonstrations across the United States.

At two separate events on Jan. 28, protestors expressed outrage over the police killing of yet another Black man.

Peter Kerre, the organizer of “Justice Ride,” which started in Union Square Saturday afternoon, said he hadn’t seen the video, but was haunted enough by the still images of Nichols’ killing.

Protesters took to Washington Square Park Saturday after body camera footage was released of Memphis police beating Tyre Nichols to death.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Even without watching it, I’ve seen still images, it’s really traumatizing enough,” Kerre said. “But you know, this is the life we live every day.”

Kerre said he wasn’t surprised that the five officers were Black, calling police brutality a “systemic cancer.” Kerre also said he skipped over politicians when inviting people to the protest, because they haven’t lived up to their promises to defund the police.

“In fact, on the contrary,” Kerre said. “At the very least, you know, [the politicians] should have done a thorough review or overhaul of policing in this country to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, but that hasn’t happened. We don’t care about them standing with us because they’re not standing for us.”

Protestors gather in Washington Square Park calling for police accountability after the killing of Tyre Nichols.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Signs delivered powerful messages at protests across the city.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Sonni Mun, who participated in Kerre’s “Justice Ride,” shared that she hadn’t stopped crying since Friday.

Mun, who is Asian-American, said she was still reeling from the Jan. 21 mass shooting at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California — and that the United States has a structural problem with policing.

“We will need to do a deep cleaning is the only way to look at it,” Mun said, suggesting a need for more accountability and the abolishment of qualified immunity. “Obviously, just diversifying isn’t the answer.”

Later that evening, a few hundred protesters assembled in Washington Square, where activists called Nichols’ killing a “modern-day lynching.”

“I’m a genuine smiley person,” one activist said, “but I’m not in the mood to smile tonight. I’m not in the mood to have fun. I’m not in the mood to sing and dance and have fun.”

Protestors march through Manhattan Saturday night.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The demonstration itself got heated when Black and brown activists called out the white people in the crowd for showing up only after video was released of Nichols’ killing — as opposed to as soon as word got out, like many of them did.

“Everybody waiting yesterday like it’s a movie premiere,” an activist said. “Because you know, it’s gonna happen again. And you know, it’s been happening. The question is why you’re just here now.”

The Memphis Police Department released video footage Friday night of the attack, with five now-fired Memphis officers shown brutally beaten Nichols after a traffic stop. Ahead of the video’s release, the country and city waited with bated breath, and the city braced for unrest.

Protestors march through Manhattan calling for police accountability after the killing of Tyre Nichols.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
A protestor holds up a fist to protest the police brutality death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The protest in Washington Square was a smorgasbord of ideas on how to eradicate racism. Some called for defunding and abolishing the police, while others called for abolishing capitalism to make room for socialism.

After a slew of speeches and the naming of victims of police brutality, the crowd made its way through Manhattan to Times Square, where they continued to express their contempt for cops with chants like “all cops are bastards.” Signs in the crowd said things like “Stop killing Black people,” “Enough” and “What have we allowed ourselves to become?”

The march commenced with protestors taking over the red steps in Times Square.

Many of this weekend’s protesters feel that the death of Nichols, the father of a four-year-old son, won’t be the last at the hands of police officers across the country.

Mayor Eric Adams weighed in on Nichols’ death Friday afternoon, just hours before protesters hit the streets. Adams condemned the officers involved, commended what he sees as swift justice, and urged protesters to remain peaceful.

“My message to New Yorkers is to respect the wishes of Mr. Nichols’ mother,” Adams said. “If you need to express your anger and outrage, do so peacefully. My message to the NYPD has been and will continue to be exercise restraint.”

The mayor stated that he was briefed by the White House and also spoke with city politicians regarding the hour-long video he called disturbing to watch, vowing as a victim of police brutality himself to hold police accountable in the Big Apple.

“I’ve been a police officer and have been the victim of police abuse,” Adams said. “I know the impact of it.”

Protesters filled Times Square on Saturday.Photo by Adrian Childress

New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell also released a statement condemning the officers’ actions.

“[The New York City Police Department] and the communities we serve are collectively outraged at the death of Tyre Nichols in the custody of the Memphis Police Department,” part of her statement read. “The disgraceful actions depicted in the released video are an unequivocal violation of our oath to protect those we serve, and a failure of basic human decency.”

Additional reporting by Ethan Stark-Miller