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'Acts that defy humanity:' 3 essential reads on police brutality, race and the power of video evidence

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Published in News & Features

In the case of the five Black, former Memphis police officers accused of murder in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, justice has moved quickly.

In fewer than 30 days after Nichols’ Jan. 10, 2023 death, the former officers were charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

The Memphis Police Department released video footage of the officers’ encounter with Nichols on Jan. 27, 2023. And some who’ve seen the video, which includes footage captured by body-worn cameras, cameras mounted on dashboards of police vehicles and security cameras on utility poles in the vicinity, have described it as “horrific.”

Before the video was released Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis told CNN: “You are going to see acts that defy humanity.”

In recent years, as national outrage over the systemic racism within U.S. law enforcement has grown, The Conversation U.S. has published several articles on police brutality, race and the national outrage over systemic racism within the U.S. criminal justice system.

Media Studies Professor Sandra Ristovska examines the use of video as evidence in state and federal courts in the U.S. and writes about the Rodney King and George Floyd cases where jurors interpreted video evidence differently.


In the King case, the four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of charges of assault and excessive use of force as the jury believed the video showed a justified response to King’s allegedly frightening actions.

Lead prosecutor Terry White ended his closing arguments by asking the jury: “Now who do you believe, the defendants or your own eyes?”

In the Floyd case, jurors believed their own eyes and convicted Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd.

As Ristovska explains, bystander, bodycam and dashcam videos of policing can be powerful forms of evidence.


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