Tyre Nichols, a black man, was fatally beaten by five police officers, who were also black, during a traffic stop on January 7, 2023. Tyre Nichols’ needless death, which occurred three days after he was admitted to the hospital in a serious condition, has rekindled a public debate over the overuse of force by police enforcement against African Americans, who are frequently the targets of violence during routine traffic stops.
In the wake of Nichols’ death, the community of Memphis called for the disbandment of a special unit within the Memphis Police department after reports surfaced that some of the five former Memphis police officers accused in the incident were members of the unit. It is reportedly called SCORPION, an acronym for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.”
The unit, comprised of approximately 50 officers, was created in 2021 to tackle rising crime in the city, focusing on car theft, gang-related offenses, and drug crimes.
However, activists in the community have claimed that the unit’s unrestrained power has engendered bias and brutality to fester within the group.
All you need to know about the special unit responsible for Tyre Nichols’ death
In October 2021, the Memphis police department, with support from the Mayor of the city, Jim Strickland, launched the SCORPION unit – Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods as a response to the rising crime in the city.
Since it was discovered that some of the officers involved in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols belonged to a police group that activists in the neighborhood claim has given officers tacit freedom to act with impunity without fear of the consequences, the unit has come under scrutiny.
Activists have called for the disbandment of the unit they say has disproportionately targeted the black community, who are often subjected to officer brutality without cause, as evidenced by Nichols’ death.
It is unclear how many of the five men responsible for Nichols’s death were members of SCORPION as authorities have yet to disclose any information on the case.
The SCORPION unit was involved in the traffic stop that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis confirmed, adding that the unit and others in the department will be reviewed.
In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday morning, Memphis Police Chief Davis said that the unit was created to combat the rising violence in the city, noting that since its inception, they have successfully reduced crime in the community. She said:
“You know, numbers of violent crimes, robberies, homicides, aggravated assaults, and this is one of three teams, whose primary responsibility is to reduce gun violence, to be visible in communities, and to also impact the rise in crime. We had record numbers in 2021, 346 homicides. So, this unit was put together and they had great success, believe it or not, last year. It was the first year in a long time that we had reductions.”
However, in an open letter, Nichols’ family lawyer Ben Crump asked the Department of Justice to investigate the unit, whose conduct was described as aggressive and opaque. Part of the letter read:
“Proactive policing or saturation unit policing, whether the officers are in unmarked cars wearing tactical vests or “jump-out boys” in plain clothes and undercover, is defined by several common and dangerous components. These types of aggressive units are used in cities across the country and are intended to flood troubled areas with officers to stem high crime.”
While the unit remains under review, the five officers charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols were identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith.