William Jones recalls that as a teenager in Memphis, Tennessee, black policemen would disrupt football games with friends when a white neighbor called to complain, often inflicting physical punishment in the process.

“And many times, it was the black officers who beat us worse than the white officers,” said Jones, 48.

So when images of five black officers flashed on his television screen as the ones who allegedly beat up black motorist Tire Nichols during a traffic stop on January 7, Jones was unfazed.

«I wasn’t surprised at all,» Jones, a high-security government worker, told NBC News. “Some of these officers hide behind their badge and forget who they came from. They truly believe in the importance of blue lives. Some of these black officers are also good guys who come from tough neighborhoods. But I’ve seen some of them take that power, many of them, and misuse it. They didn’t come to my neighborhood and they didn’t take cats out of trees. They came when we were little children, 13, 14 years old, and they mistreated us. And for no reason.»

Jones and other black Memphis residents have shared a variety of reactions to seeing five black faces as the alleged perpetrators of Nichols’ fatal beating on NBC News. Nichols, 29, died three days after the beating. His reactions line up with data on the rate of city police using force against blacks. According to a 2021 report on city data from the TV station WREGBlack men were seven times more likely to experience police brutality than their white male peers.

“I’m not surprised because it’s a predominantly black part of town with black officers patrolling,” said Barbara Johnson, 75, a grandmother. “The relationship with blacks and the police is not very good. Black or white officers, it’s us against them. There is this mistrust. Period.»

Brian Harris, 44, who is running for city council in the district where Nichols was killed, said the relationship between Memphis’s black community and law enforcement is deteriorating, making this case a touchstone for even more discord.

“I’ve seen it change over the years,” Harris said. “And that change has come in part because the policies have been relaxed around the officers I board. A couple of years ago, they it fell the 60 college credit hour requirement was lowered to just having a high school diploma, changing the dynamics of those entering. That was for recruiting purposes.

“Still, I’ve never seen anything like it. When it comes to Memphis and black officers and black vs. black confrontations … this is brand new,” Harris said. “But if you look at the history of Memphis and race relations, we are oppressed, especially black men. And to know that the black officers they swore to protect and serve have turned on their own people…is just unacceptable, shocking and disappointing.”

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a press conference Friday with attorney Ben Crump: «I want to say to the five police officers who murdered my son, that they also dishonored their own families when they did this.»

Memphisians have experienced shootings of black men by officers in the past. Martavio Banks survived multiple gunshots by an officer during a traffic stop in 2018. In 2015, Darry Stewart was shot and killed by a white officer during a traffic stop in the Hickory Hill section of Memphis, where Nichols was struck.

“But this feels a little different than anything else we’ve seen,” said Todd Harris, a 25-year-old Memphis resident who works in banking. He said a police officer friend tipped him off to Nichols’ death before it was made public.

“I was a little surprised because being beaten to death is so extreme,” Harris said. “That is more intentional than shooting the person. But I was even more shocked that five black men beat him to death.»

Circumstances, he said, have led to talks focusing less on race and more on power.

But the issue is less complicated for Memphis native, school board member and activist Frank Johnson (no relation to Barbara Johnson) because he sees the beating in historical context.

«White supremacy has always had black faces to carry out its exploits,» Johnson said.

For Carla Griffin-Crouthers, Nichols’ death signals a broader security concern. “I used to go to the ATM and gas station at night without fear,” she said. «But now? No? Crime is increasing and then you have the police who are supposed to protect you and who are doing the opposite.»

She said she didn’t have “the talk” about safely interacting with police with her 27-year-old son as a teenager, but “I have since he became a young man. And sometimes even that’s not enough.»

Some people, like Griffin-Crouthers, praise the police department for “acting quickly” and firing officers and then charging them, even though it had been nearly three weeks since the beating.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis told ABC News that the beating would only damage trust-building between police and black communities in Memphis and elsewhere. Davis too acknowledged Friday to NBC News that the behavior of the officers at the traffic stop did not follow “police protocol”.

“I’ve been in the business for 36 years, and a lot of the aggression and focus [of the officers] It was exaggerated,» he said.

Frank Johnson, however, said: “The only reason we know Tire’s name now is because the activists in this town wouldn’t let his name go. There’s a lot going around saying our police department got it right. No they did not. They had to be forced to do this.”

Many black Memphis residents, Jones said, believe that if the officers had been white, a case would not have been built against them.

«No way,» he said. That is the story of Memphis. And that comment goes back to a lack of trust in police officers, black or white.»

Todd Harris added: «Beating that man to death is a breach of trust, and just one more reason for angst among the minority population and the police department.»