Tyre Nichols funeral a ‘plea for justice’ and police reform
The family of Tyre Nichols has finally laid their son to rest.
Nichols’s funeral opened with a viewing of his black casket, covered with white flowers, at the front of the pulpit. Four musicians playing African drums dressed in all white moved slowly up the aisle of the church pews as they — and those gathered — sang “We love you, Tyre.”
It comes nearly four weeks after a traffic stop turned into a deadly altercation; only days after the release of graphic video showed the violent beating that led to the 29-year-old’s death; and less than a week after five Memphis Police Department officers were indicted on second-degree murder charges.
At the funeral, a slideshow showed mourners some of Nichols’s own photography; images of Nichols smiling at the camera, Nichols holding up his baby son to the heavens, Nichols standing with his mother and of the protests that have taken place around the nation since his death.
“Tyre was a beautiful person,” his mother, RowVaughn Wells, said through tears. “For this to happen to him is just unimaginable. I promise you the only thing that’s keeping me going is the fact that I really truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God.”
“I guess now his assignment is done and he’s been taken home,” she added.
More than 1,000 people tuned in to the livestream of Nichols’s homegoing services at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, while other guests — such as Vice President Harris and the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and others who died at the hands of police brutality — attended Nichols’s services in person.
Harris extended her sympathies to Wells and her husband, commending them for their strength, courage and grace as they dealt with the death of Wells’s youngest son.
Vice President Kamala Harris departs from the Memphis International Airport after attending a funeral service for Tyre Nichols on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols was beaten by Memphis police officers, and later died from his injuries. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
“Mothers around the world, when their babies are born, pray to God when they hold that child, that that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life,” Harris said. “Yet we have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today. They have a grandson who now does not have a father, his brothers and sisters will lose the love of growing old with their baby brother.”
The vice president said the officers involved in Nichols’s death were not acting in pursuit of public safety because if they had been, he would still be alive.
“When we look at this situation, this is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of people who have been charged with keeping them safe,” she said.
Harris was not the only one to express outrage at Nichols’s services on Wednesday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy, complete with harsh words, especially for the Black officers directly involved in the beating of Nichols.
“In the city that Dr. King lost his life … you beat a brother to death,” Sharpton exclaimed. “There is nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us that fight to open doors that you walk through those doors and act like the folks that we had to fight to get you through those doors.”
But Sharpton said Nichols’s name will live on as the fight for justice continues.
“I believe that babies unborn will know about Tyre Nichols because we won’t let his memory die,” Sharpton added. “We are going to change this country because we refuse to keep living under the threat of the cops and the robbers.”
In a call to action, Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’s family, demanded Congress pass police reform, particularly the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Rev. Al Sharpton, hugs Attorney Benjamin Crump after speaking at a news conference after a funeral service for Tyre Nichols, on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols was beaten by Memphis police officers, and later died from his injuries.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The legislation, which has stalled in Congress, was introduced by then-Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in 2021 after the murder of Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. A sweeping police reform bill, the legislation would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, end qualified immunity and prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement officers.
Crump told mourners on Wednesday that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who also attended Nichols’s funeral, will be reintroducing the bill with an added “Tyre Nichols Duty to Intervene” amendment.
“When we do the call to action, it really is a plea for justice,” said Crump. “It is a plea for Tyre Nichols, the son. It is a plea for justice for Tyre Nichols, the brother. It is a plea for justice for Tyre Nichols, the father. But most of all, it is a plea for justice for Tyre Nichols, the human being.”
Crump added that, within that plea for justice, there needs to be “swift action” for white police officers in the same manner there was “swift justice” for the five Black officers charged in Nichols’s case.
“In less than 20 days, when it was five Black police officers captured on video engaging in excessive use of force, when they were committing crimes on video, that they were terminated, they were arrested and they were charged,” said Crump.
“No more can they ever tell us when we have evidence on video of them brutalizing us, that it’s gonna take months, that it’s gonna take three years like Laquan McDonald,” Crump added, referring to a 17-year-old boy from Chicago who was fatally shot in 2014 by a police officer.
Nichols’s mother had chilling words for members of Congress as she begged for them to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“There should be no other child that should suffer the way my son and all the other parents here that have lost their children,” Wells said. “We need to get that bill passed, or the next child that dies, that blood is going to be on their hands.”
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