‘Tyre Nichols Should’ve Been Safe‘: Kamala Harris, Rev. Al Sharpton Honor Nichols’ at His Funeral
Tyre Nichols was laid to rest Wednesday following a memorial service in Memphis, nearly one month after the 29-year-old died after being beaten by five police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop.
Vice President Kamala Harris made an appearance at the funeral after being invited to speak at the last minute by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Harris denounced the actions of the police officers who beat Nichols and called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, saying that President Joe Biden would sign it into law.
“This violent act was not in the pursuit of public safety. It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe,” Harris said of Nichols’ death. “One must ask, ‘Was it not in the interest of public safety that Tyre Nichols would be with us today?’ Was he also not entitled to the right to be safe? … Tyre Nichols should’ve been safe.”
Sharpton, who delivered the main eulogy, opened with a pointed and poignant gesture, inviting the families of other victims of police brutality who were in attendance to stand up. This included relatives of Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Botham Jean.
“They know what it is like to sit at a funeral like this,” Sharpton said, adding, “I want [Nichols’] family to know that they’ve come to be with you on this day from all over the country.”
In his eulogy, Sharpton noted that, before the service, he visited the Lorraine Motel — where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 — and recalled how King was in Memphis to lend his support to striking garbage workers. The fight for those Black city workers, Sharpton noted, made it possible for the five Black officers to join the Memphis Police Department decades later.
“The reason why what happened to Tyre is so personal to me is that five Black men that wouldn’t have had a job in the police department, would not ever be thought of to be in an elite squad in the city that Dr. King lost his life — not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death,” Sharpton said. “There’s 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 we had to fight to get you through those doors.”
Sharpton went on to say that bodycam footage of the five officers beating Nichols “speaks for itself,” noting the cops didn’t ask Nichols for his license or registration before they “snatched him out of the car and began beating him.” Condemning the officer’s conduct, Sharpton said “they feel that there is no accountability,” before echoing Harris’ call for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
At one point in his eulogy, Sharpton recalled Nichols’ plea in the footage of his deadly beating: “I’m just trying to go home.”
“Home is not just a place, home is not just a physical location,” Sharpton said. “Home is where you are at peace… [Nichols] said, ‘All I wanna do is get home.’ I came to Memphis to say the reason I keep going, is all I’m trying to do is get home. I want to get where they can’t treat me with a double standard. I’m trying to get home. I want to get to where they can’t call me names no more. I want to get home. I want to get where they can’t shoot and ask questions later. I’m trying to get home, every Black in America stands up everyday trying to get home!”
Along with Harris and Sharpton, Nichols’ service also featured words from civil rights attorney Ben Crump (who’s also representing the Nichols family) and Nichols’ older sister, Keyana Dixon. “Even in his demise, he was still polite,” Dixon said, fighting back tears. “He was still the polite young man he always was. He asked them to please stop, and they didn’t. That is why my family will never be the same.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, also spoke at the funeral. Rodney recalled how “difficult” it was when the family first learned of Nichols’ death, saying the incident was “surrounded by lies, deceit, trying to cover it up.”
He added, “We have to fight for justice. We cannot continue to let these people brutalize our kids… What’s done in a dark will always come to the light, and the light of day is justice for Tyre, justice for all the families that have lost loved ones to brutality of police or anybody.”
Fighting back tears, RowVaughn Wells remembered her son as “a beautiful person” and called his death “unimaginable.” Also calling for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, she stated, “There should be no other child that should suffer the way my son and all the other parents here that have lost their children. We need to get that bill passed, because if we don’t, the next child that dies — that blood is going to be on their hands.”
Seven police officers — five of whom have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and official misconduct and oppression — and three Memphis Fire Department personnel who responded to the Nichols beating have been fired following the incident, which sparked national protests and renewed calls for sweeping police reform.
As brutal bodycam footage of the Jan. 7 incident revealed, during a traffic stop, Memphis police officers kicked Tyre Nichols in the head, hit him with a baton, doused him with pepper spray, and beat him while he cried out for his mother, leading to his hospitalization and then death on Jan. 10.
A Times analysis of the video footage from Jan. 7 found that officers ordered Nichols to obey at least 71 commands. The officers’ contradictory demands made it impossible for Nichols to abide: from asking him to show his hands even while they were restraining him, to get on the ground even though he was already on the ground, and telling him to reposition himself, even when he did not have the ability to do so because they had control of his movements.
In the wake of 29-year-old skateboarder and father Nichol’s death, The Scorpion Unit, of which the five officers who have been charged were members, has been disbanded.
Next week, Nichols’ parents will attend President Biden’s State of the Union address on Feb. 7, where the president is expected to once again call on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.