Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10 after a police beating that has led to criminal charges, terminations
Family and friends of Tyre Nichols came together for a funeral that blended a celebration of his life with calls for justice. The 29-year-old Black man died last month days after Memphis police brutally beat him.
The family and friends of Tyre Nichols gathered Wednesday for a funeral that blended a celebration of his life with outrage over the brutal beating he endured at the hands of the Memphis, Tenn., police and heated calls for police reform.
Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris both delivered impassioned speeches calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a broad package of police reforms that includes a national registry for police officers disciplined for misconduct, a ban on no-knock warrants and other measures.
Harris said the beating of Nichols by police officers was a violent act that went against the stated mission of police to ensure public safety.
"It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe, because one must ask, was not it in the interest of keeping the public safe that Tyre Nichols would be with us today? Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe? So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in it's truest form. Tyre Nichols should have been safe," she said.
'That ain't the police. That's punks'
Sharpton began his eulogy by recognizing family members of others who have been killed by police who attended the funeral, including George Floyd, Botham Jean, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. Sharpton said the officers who beat Nichols might have acted differently if there was real accountability for their actions.
"We understand that there are concerns about public safety. We understand that there are needs that deal with crime," Sharpton said.
"But you don't fight crime by becoming criminals yourself. You don't stand up to thugs in the street becoming thugs yourself. You don't fight gangs by becoming five armed men against an unarmed man. That ain't the police. That's punks."
His remarks drew rousing applause from the crowd.
"If that man had been white, you wouldn't have beat him like that," Sharpton said.
'A brother, a friend, a human being'
Rev. J. Lawrence Turner called Nichols "a good person, a beautiful soul, a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a human being" who was gone too soon and "denied his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, denied the dignity of his humanity, denied the right to see the sun set another day, to embrace his mother, hang out with his friends, hold his child, and the right to grow old.
"As we celebrate Tyre's life and comfort this family, we serve notice to this nation that the rerun of this episode that makes 'Black lives' hashtags has been cancelled and will not be renewed for another season," Turner said.
"We have come and we shall overcome."
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle, who was fatally shot by a Houston police officer in 2022, sang a rendition of the gospel standard Total Praise to rousing applause from the congregation and Nichols's family.
"All of the mothers all over the world need to come together, need to come together to stop all of this," Rachal said.
A montage of photos of Nichols and images from protests that followed the news of his death were shown on large screens.
The baby of the family
In the three weeks since Nichols's death, five police officers were fired and charged with murder. Their specialized unit was disbanded. Two more officers have been suspended. Two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical workers and a lieutenant were also fired. And more discipline could be coming.
But Wednesday was about Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and amateur photographer who worked making boxes at FedEx, made friends during morning visits to Starbucks and always greeted his mother and stepfather when he returned home with a sunny, "Hello, parents!"
Nichols was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a four-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said.
Nichols grew up in Sacramento, Calif., and loved the San Francisco 49ers. He came to Memphis just before the coronavirus pandemic and got stuck. But he was fine with it because he was with his mother, RowVaughn Wells, and they were incredibly close, she said. He even had her name tattooed on his arm.
Friends at a memorial service last week described him as joyful and kind, quick with a smile, often silly.
"This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him," said Angelina Paxton, a friend who travelled to Memphis from California for the memorial service.
University of Memphis sociology professor Darron Smith says the body-camera footage of Tyre Nichols being beaten by police can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms for Black Americans who watch the video.
The beating of Nichols, who was Black, happened after police stopped him for an alleged traffic violation on Jan. 7. Video released after pressure from Nichols's family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching him, kicking him and striking with him batons as he screamed for his mother.
Nichols's death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police about their use of force that were later shown to have minimized or omitted mention of violent encounters.
The death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, has prompted renewed calls for police reform in the United States.
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