COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – Former President Donald Trump on Saturday said the footage of the brutal beating of Tire Nichols by five Memphis police officers was “horrifying” and that the attack “should never have happened” .
“I thought it was awful. He was in such trouble. He was just punched. Now this should never have happened,” Trump said in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, a day after authorities released footage of the attack on the 29-year-old black man after a traffic stop. Nichols died three days later.
The comments were noteworthy for Trump, who is running again for the White House and has a history of encouraging rough treatment of people in police custody. He served as president during the racial justice protests that erupted in the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the time, he signed an executive order encouraging better policing practices, but failed to acknowledge systemic racial bias.
Trump ultimately centered his 2020 re-election bid around a “law and order” message that emphasized support for law enforcement.
The violent video just released in Memphis shows police holding down and beating Nichols for three minutes with fists, boots and batons. The footage shows the police yelling profanity at him while Nichols yells for his mother. Trump said Nichols calling his mother was “a very sad moment.”
“That was really the point that struck me the most, to be honest with you,” he said.
Trump did not address the video in his campaign speeches in New Hampshire or South Carolina, the first stops of his 2024 presidential campaign.
The five former Memphis Police Department officers, also black, were fired and charged with murder and other crimes. Nichols’ family legal team compared it to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Trump said Memphis police are taking a “strong step” by disbanding the police unit involved in the attack, which was created to target violent offenders in areas plagued by high crime.
“Look, the tape maybe wasn’t quite conclusive but, for me, it was pretty conclusive and it was vicious and violent and hard to believe — for a traffic violation,” she said.
The renewed questions about how fateful encounters with law enforcement continue to occur after repeated calls for change and a nationwide police showdown and scrutiny after Floyd’s murder. Trump condemned the killing at the time but also criticized the protests which were largely peaceful, albeit marked by eruptions of violence.
Trump tweeted about “thugs” in the Minneapolis protests and warned, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged the message as a glorification of violence and Trump sought to dismiss the comments.
When several thousand people demonstrated in Lafayette Park in front of the White House, US park police forcibly dispersed them with tear gas and flash bangs just before Trump crossed the park for a photo shoot near the church in St. John’s, where he stood in front of cameras holding a Bible.
Price reported from New York.