Photo: Protest against police brutality in Memphis, Jan. 27
Hundreds marched in Memphis on Friday and Saturday demanding justice for 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, beaten so brutally by Memphis police on January 7 that he died three days later.
Several people victimized by the police came out to march as well. They or a loved one suffered a similar fate by the city’s Multi-Agency Gang Units (MGU), “anti-crime” task forces that are better understood as gangs themselves.
From SCORPION to the Charley Task Force and more, under the guise of fighting crime they are empowered to raid homes, stop cars and escalate incidents to the level of police murder.
Incredibly, current Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis oversaw the notorious RED DOG unit in Atlanta. The acronym stood for Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia. It was finally disbanded in 2011 after violent assaults on Atlanta residents, including an attack on patrons of a gay bar.
Gil Carter, community activist, spoke Friday night before the march that occupied the I-55 bridge for two hours. He said, “Without deflecting any attention and power and love that we give to Tyre’s family, let’s not forget about the other names … Let’s not forget about Martavious Banks, Steven Askew, Darrius Stewart and so many brothers and sisters that have senselessly lost their lives due to the impunity and evil of the state.”
Victims and family members step forward
Martavious Banks is 30 years old. As we rallied on the highway, Martavious and his mother Janice Banks began to tell his story. Hugging Martavious, family friend Cleo Buriss explained, “It’s a miracle he is with us, because we almost lost him.”
Martavious very quietly said, “I can show you what happened to me.” He unzipped his coat, pulled off his shirt, and displayed a shocking number of bullet holes and massive scars on his torso and arm. A police officer shot him multiple times with an AR-15, twice in the back as he was running away, and then more as he ran into his mother’s home.
His mother Janice says he was shot “for a simple traffic stop, just like what happened to Tyre. A traffic stop.” Martavious says he was always being stopped and harassed by Memphis police. “I would run to get away from them. This time, they decided on a plan to take me out.” The police attack was September 17, 2018, when he was stopped for an alleged traffic violation – not having car insurance. After driving away from the police for five miles, Martavious ran into his house where he was gunned down.
In addition to the bullets fired into his body, the cop kicked out his teeth and beat him repeatedly. And, as if to assure he would bleed to death, the EMT workers and ambulance took over an hour to come to the scene. Martavious spent two months in the hospital in critical condition.
After he got out, the police stopped him again and arrested him for a warrant. The warrant charge? Driving without a license. This time, Martavious spent four months in jail for the minor infraction.
The cop, Jamarcus Jeames, was never charged. He and three other officers turned off all their body cameras and deliberately failed to communicate with the police dispatcher. Instead, they talked with each other by cell phone to hide their actions. There were never any charges filed against them.
Multiple police-gang task forces
Jeames was part of a notorious police gang, officially called the Charlie Task Force, similar to the SCORPION task force that was just disbanded on Saturday amid the protest.
While Interstate-55 was being occupied by protesters, another man in the crowd began to tell the story of his son’s murder by Memphis cops. Crying, he held up a poster with pictures of his son, Jaylin Keshawn Mackenzie, who was gunned down by Memphis police last December 16. His father said angrily, “He was only 20, his 21st birthday was this coming February 6. We had plans together but now he’s in the ground!”
Nyliayh Stewart also marched Friday night to represent her cousin Darrius Stewart, a 19-year-old young man shot dead by Memphis cops on July 17, 2015. Nyliayh, who was 16 at the time, told Liberation News, “His death was traumatizing for me. We were very close. I was getting ready for my senior year, and I was wakened and told the news of his death.”
She criticized the fact that the DA Amy Weirich passed the case to a grand jury, and then decided not to press charges, even though Darrius was handcuffed when he was shot, “You didn’t need a grand jury, it was just a way to delay and sweep it under the rug. There were four young people in a car, my cousin was in the back seat. The police ran everyone’s ID, but Darrius didn’t have an ID. The others were let go, but the police drove him to a Black church and dragged him out of the car. Then Darrius ran away. He had no weapon at all. The police shot him in the back, handcuffed.”
Not only was the cop who shot Darrius, Connor Schilling, not charged, he is living on a lifetime pension for PTSD! The family of Darrius? No resolution in their favor whatsoever. But the family has not given up seeking justice. Keedron Franklin, a professional organizer with Black Men Build, told Liberation News, “I asked the new District Attorney Steve Mulroy to reopen the Darrius Stewart case, to take a second look about how Amy Weirach may have led a skewed grand jury investigation. He was put into office by progressive voters, so we are hopeful.”
The theme repeated throughout the weekend’s protests: The struggle is not over.
Amber Sherman of Black Lives Matter Official in Memphis is a key leader of the past two weeks of protests. Summing up the police pretexts to stop and assault Black people, she said, “We are experiencing domestic terrorism every day just for being Black. The SCORPION unit is traumatizing people, they are murdering people.”
“Black men in Memphis are 3.2 times more likely to get citations for traffic than white men,” Sherman continued, “Black women are 4.7 times more likely for pretextual traffic stops and citations. They beat Tyre over a traffic stop. We are not laying down, we are not taking it nicely. We will be in the streets every day until we get exactly what we want.”