RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the days since Memphis Police released video showing the violent arrest of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died three days later, local leaders and law enforcement officers have shared their response, including in the City of Richmond.
Authorities released the video on Friday, showing Nichols being beaten by police officers who held him down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother. Nichols later died at the hospital. Five officers have since been charged, with a sixth relieved of duty, in connection to the incident.
The department’s SCORPION Unit, at the center of the controversy, has also since been disbanded, according to Memphis Police. The unit — short for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods — was composed of three teams of approximately 30 officers, whose stated aim was to target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime, according to a report from the Associated Press.
In Richmond, the death of Nichols has raised questions about the city’s own specialty operations and attempts to curb violence.
“I was horrified. I was upset. I was frustrated,” Cruz Sherman said.
Sherman grew up in Memphis. Now a Richmond resident, he founded community organization Virginians in Action in the wake of the shooting deaths of a mother and her baby at The Belt Atlantic apartment complex in April of 2021. He also serves as a chaplain with the Richmond Police Department.
“We have been focusing on the crime, rather than the mindset of people,” Sherman told 8News on Monday. “The key with my group and a lot of other groups is how do we change that value for humanity, and that has to be the focus now. Our police departments, they can give all of the tools. They’re […] here to enforce the laws, but they cannot control human behavior.”
Since Mayor Levar Stoney and then-Police Chief Gerald Smith first announced the concept of violence interrupters to the public back in February of 2022, there have been approximately 58 homicides in Richmond, according to data from the police department. At the end of December of 2022, a job opening was listed on the city government’s website for a violence interrupter, but the position has since been removed.
“We’ve hired a supervisor and we have had interviews very recently,” Interim Chief Rick Edwards told 8News the week the position was posted last month. “We hope to bring more people on board.”
The topic of violence interrupters did not, however, come up during Richmond Police’s end-of-year crime briefing last week.
“I don’t have any personal update on where they are,” Sherman said Monday. “I know that people are anticipating, and I’m sure that Chief Edwards and his team, they’re working to get that program on the way.”
8News reached out to Richmond Police, the mayor’s office, and a city spokesperson on Monday for an update on the program, but has not gotten a response.
“It’s going to take everybody,” Sherman said. “It’s going to take the police department. It’s going to take the school systems and, especially, our home environments to make all this work. If we can’t get the parents involved, we can’t change what a child sees when they go home.”