Tyre Nichols Beating Footage Sparks Rodney King Comparisons

The release of video footage capturing the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Tennessee has sparked comparisons to decades-old footage of Rodney King being brutally beaten by police in California.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died after being severely beaten by five officers following a traffic stop in Memphis on January 7. The officers were all fired from the Memphis Police Department and on Thursday were charged with multiple felonies, including second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.

The death of Nichols was met with outrage, with many characterizing it as the latest in a seemingly unending series of incidents involving police brutality directed at young Black men. The disgust reached new levels after police released pole and body-cam footage of the incident on Friday night.

Comparisons were quickly made between the Nichols footage and a bystander's recording of the 1991 beating of King, which inspired widespread outrage after being aired on television at the time and indirectly led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Tyre Nichols Rodney King Police Brutality Video
A protester of the police beating death of Tyre Nichols is pictured on Friday holding a sign near the White House in Washington, D.C. The inset features Rodney King, who barely survived a brutal police beating that was captured on video in 1991. Comparisons to King were made after videos of the fatal Nichols beating were released on Friday. PEDRO UGARTE/AFP; Ted Soqui/Corbis

"The camera shot from the light pole looks eerily reminiscent of the Rodney King video," journalist Jay Scott Smith tweeted. "The multiple kicks, the nightstick, the knee to the back, holding him up and punching him. Then dragging him to the car and just leaving him. Good grief. This is horrendous."

"I remember the Rodney King assault," tweeted comedian and commentator W. Kamau Bell. "I remember how many of us thought the footage would change everything, Finally there was "proof". Now there's footage everyday of police brutalizing us. This footage is in HD & often comes from the police. Nothing changes. #TyreNichols"

"I remember the Rodney King video," talk radio host Nayyera Haq tweeted. "My parents had to explain the news to me — it was my childhood intro to police violence and protest. 30 years later, this video is even worse, #TyreeNichols is dead, and now I'm the adult who's supposed to explain the world to my son."

"Folks have good words. I don't," tweeted Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. "I've been watching recorded beatings of Black men since I watched the Rodney King assault at age 7. I'm disgusted, but committed to ensuring that in the spot of the world I have influence, we do better. We will keep up that work."

"I couldn't even finish watching the video," esports announcer Akinola Verissimo tweeted. "They somehow made the Rodney king beating look more pleasant. I'm sick man. I hope those officers go under the jail."

The Nichols family's legal team has also made the comparison to King, with attorney Ben Crump tweeting: "Tyre Nichols = Rodney King, Part 2" earlier on Friday.

President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was "outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video," calling it "yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day."

Outrage over the fatal beating extended across international borders, with Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, invoking both the King beating and the murder of George Floyd while "grieving the inhumanity" of the violence.

"Decades ago we thought the Rodney King footage would change everything," Singh tweeted. "Then the murder of George Floyd shook us to our core. We were promised change. Yet, here we are, grieving the inhumanity experienced by Tyre Nichols. I stand with Tyre's family and all who seek justice."

Rodney King died of an accidental drowning in 2012 at age 47. His daughter, Lora Dene King, attending a viewing of the Nichols footage. Images of the moment shared to social media on Friday show her reacting in horror and at times being consoled by activist Najee Ali.

The video of her father's 1991 beating shows him being repeatedly hit with a baton, kicked and tased. King received serious injuries from the beating, including multiple broken bones, leaving him temporarily confined to a wheelchair. The L.A. Riots began within hours of a jury acquitting the officers who beat him.

Newsweek has reached out to Crump's office for comment.