Roberts seeks action after Memphis police brutality death

State Rep. Kadeem Roberts (D-137), right, leads a protest Monday on the Town Green.

NORWALK, Conn. — About 40 people gathered Monday evening on the town green in a protest hastily organized by State Rep. Kadeem Roberts (D-137), in response to the release of horrifying video Friday showing a 29-year-old Black man being beaten by five Memphis Police officers, also Black.

Victim Tyre Nichols, who died Jan. 10, was “someone that’s supposed to be among us today,” the father of a 4-year-old child, Roberts said. “We’re close to the same age. And I am African American male, and to see what occurred with him, it hurts. … We always say it’s a Black and white issue. Now this is a police brutality (issue).”

Roberts pledged to meet with Norwalk Police Chief James Walsh regularly to discuss local issues, and work with the State delegation to “create some legislation that’s going to be powerful for Connecticut.” Common Council President Greg Burnett (D-At Large) said he’d continued to support the “vital investment” in de-escalation training for Norwalk Police officers.

Common Council President Greg Burnett (D-At Large), right, speaks Monday on the Town Green.

“A few nights ago, we were witness to yet another horrific tragedy caught on video which left us in shock and disbelief, and asking ourselves the question once again as to ‘why,’” Burnett said. “Why did five, now former, officers find it necessary to beat, brutalize, and ultimately take the life of a young black man as he lay on the ground with his hands in restraints desperately crying out for his-mother with his very last conscious state of energy? … What was the thinking, if any, of these five former officers now accused of second-degree murder?”

Others stood by watching, Burnett said.

“Was this viewed as business as usual and just looked at as another example of a corrupt, unethical, and brutalizing culture of enforcement? There must be accountability for the actions of these former officers which sends the message that this deplorable behavior will not be tolerated today or any day,” he said.

“We should not only be crying out for Memphis, but we should be crying out for ourselves. Because when one of us bleed, and one of us hurt, it impacts all of us, no matter where we are, in our geography in the United States,” said Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A).

Common Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) speaks Monday on the Town Green.

It was a triumphant feeling when George Floyd legislation was passed but now it’s “disturbing” because it wasn’t enough to go two steps forward, “we have been pushed and dragged three steps back,” she said. “… We need to be working now to ensure that every resident, every person that walks on the shores in the different states of the United States has the same equal right and is seen as human beings and as people. I don’t care what the color of the officers are. What I care is that a life was taken too soon and brutally.”

Mayor Harry Rilling attended but did not speak, as Roberts wanted Council members to address the gathering, he said afterwards. Burnett pointed out that Rilling and Walsh had already released a statement, and everyone knew what they thought.

So why did the officers behave that way?

“I think they felt that they were an elite squad, called the Scorpions, and it puts together in their mindset that ‘we’re a group and we may be outside of the law,’” said Rilling, who served 17 years as Norwalk Police Chief, to NancyOnNorwalk. “It became a pack mentality. It just kept on going, it built up into a crescendo.”

The SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, has been “permanently” deactivated, multiple news outlets said. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis acted swiftly to fire five police officers after Nichols died; they were subsequently arrested on charges that include second-degree murder.

Two more Memphis police officers have been disciplined and three emergency responders fired in connection, AP reported Monday.

Rilling said the video was “horrible to watch.”

“I’m tired of being here (at a protest),” Rilling said. “We don’t need to be here anymore. And this was unacceptable. And I give that police chief tremendous credit for her courage and stamina in taking immediate action, and saying ‘this is not going to happen here.’” The Memphis response is a blueprint for the future, a template, for dealing with it immediately because “we have to be quick to respond that this is not acceptable.”

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Marjorie Madden January 31, 2023 at 10:20 am

Best take away was stated by Memphis Police Chief “ It takes off the table that issues and problems in law enforcement are about race. It is not. It’s about human dignity and integrity, accountability and the duty to protect our community.”

Well stated let’s stop breaking every thing into a race reaction when it comes to the police.

David Muccigrosso January 31, 2023 at 11:02 am

Critical questions: Does Norwalk have any similar units? Are there plans to disband or reform them?

As far as I know, Norwalk has been lucky to avoid any major bias- and brutality-related incidents. But given that we have one of the larger minority populations in the state, we’re also at higher risk of one.

I hope we can mitigate any of that risk before it materializes into someone’s unnecessary and untimely demise. Every life is sacred, after all.

Tysen Canevari January 31, 2023 at 9:57 pm

Great point Marjorie! Its about 5 awful people killing an innocent human being! Somehow people always bring race into the picture. Lets move forward people. We always feel the need to have a protest or gathering for the politicians to fluff themselves.

Drew Todd February 1, 2023 at 9:01 am

Maybe Kadeem should have sit this out given the issues and problems he’s had with his girlfriend you know like that assault thing that was very quietly swept away. Oh the police were great then weren’t they Kadeem!?

Sherelle Harris February 2, 2023 at 10:48 am

I think Mayor Rilling said it best. Not one word about race which seems impossible in this day and age for the majority of us. This situation hurt me to my core and I haven’t even seen the video. I refuse to watch it. This is not something I want to see politicized. I do not want to see moral grandstanding. I do not want to see people capitalize this event. I don’t want to continue talking about or around the need for a fix. I want a fix.

“Tyre Nichols’ death underscores the troubled history of specialized police units”

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