Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams watched the released videos of the five now ex-Memphis police officers fatally beat Tyre Nichols in disbelief.
“I don’t think any of us thought we’d see what we saw,” Williams said before Saturday’s overtime road win over the Spurs as the videos were made public Friday.
The incident occurred Jan. 7 at a routine traffic stop by the Memphis Scorpion Unit that has since been disbanded.
The 29-year-old Nichols died three days after being severely beaten.
“Never thought I’d be dealing with this kind of stuff at (age) 51,” Williams said. “I thought this was going to be an old issue. Even after Rodney King, I thought, we can learn from this.”
More:Politicians, activists decry Tyre Nichols fatal traffic stop after video’s release
Rodney King was tasered and beaten by White Los Angeles police department officers March 3, 1991.
“We haven’t learned one thing,” Williams continued. “Still doing it. Shameful and shame on us because we have not figured it out.”
Seeing five African American male officers batter Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, made it all even more disturbing for Williams.
“As an African American who has watched for years White officers do horrible things to Black people, I never thought I’d see what I saw from African American policemen doing what they did to a young man who seemed defenseless and terrified out of his mind,” Williams said.
Nichols could be heard screaming for his mom.
“It just never registered that could happen, especially when you look at what has happened to Black people in reference to that particular subject,” Williams said.
The five Black officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith – were fired Jan. 20 after an internal investigation concluded they violated department policy on the use of force.
They were charged Thursday with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault.
“So, I was inundated with a lot of emotions just thinking about my own boys, my relatives, thinking about different things that have happened,” Williams said. “Thinking about our players. You just feel so somewhat helpless in that it just doesn’t seem to be an answer in sight to stop all this silliness. Tragic.”
Then to watch the officers having a conversation about it with Nichols handcuffed and sitting on the ground while the ambulance made its way to the scene really bothered Williams.
“Those guys didn’t even care,” Williams said. “They talked about it. It was like they were at a gym afterwards just talking to each other. I was like, what is going on with these guys. This is crazy.”
All five former officers indicted will be arraigned Feb. 17 in Memphis.
“It just seems so unnecessary and senseless,” Suns forward Cam Johnson said.
Suns big Bismack Biyombo said the team has talked about the incident and videos.
“It’s sad to see things like that in today’s society,” Biyombo said. “We’re in 2023.”
Williams said he and Suns assistant coach Mark Bryant had a conversation about being concerned over their children growing up in today’s society.
“You’re scared to let your boys go out,” Williams said. “Scared to let them hang with certain people because of this kind of silliness. You just never know when it can be at your doorstep. That’s my question. When are going to just stop with all this and show a genuine concern for human dignity and respect and it’s just not there.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a mentor of Williams, spoke candidly as well about the incident.
“It’s just sickening to watch, and depressing, because it just keeps happening,” the 74-year-old Popovich said before Saturday’s game. “Doesn’t matter if they’re White officers or Black officers or Green officers. Our young people are getting killed on the streets and in the classrooms and you have to ask yourself, why does it keep happening?”
The released videos have evoked nationwide protests and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris calling for Congress to take swift action by passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“Most police are great,” Popovich said. “We need the police. We want the police. There’s going to be a bad apple everywhere, but we compound it with the culture because there’s no leaders that take care of it and it’s mostly government. I look at government. It’s got to start there, but we have officials that almost promote an environment where violence can take place in many different situations all over our country and it keeps happening.”
Popovich continued by saying America is “an embarrassment” when it comes to matters of this nature.
“There’s going to be somebody who goes, ‘Oh my gosh, how can you say that about our country,’” Popovich said. “It’s true.”
Williams views it as a “humanity” problem.
“We keep talking about police reform, funding, training,” he said. “I’m not even sure it’s a police problem. It’s just a humanity problem. We just do not respect each other the way that we should. Whether it’s policing or just folks walking down the street.”
The NBA tweeted out a statement regarding the video.
“The images of Tyre Nichols’ life needlessly cut short are horrifying. While there have been steps toward accountability in this instance, the NBA family remains committed to partnering with advocates, policymakers and law enforcement to work toward solutions to the issues we continue to face. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr. Nichols, the entire Memphis community and those who are affected by these tragic images and loss.”
Suns point guard Chris Paul took to social media Friday to express his concerns over the situation.
“Change is needed at all levels and we all need to do our part. We can’t lose our humanity as a society. To the Nichols’ family and Memphis community, my heart is with you tonight.”
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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