Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life of Tire Nichols Wednesday night at a ceremony inside a Mississippi Boulevard Baptist church in Memphis.
The 29-year-old black man was fatally beaten by a group of Memphis Police Department officers last month, and gruesome footage of the incident released last week has reignited an urgent demand for reform.
Reflecting on the far-reaching impact of his death, those in attendance at his funeral included Vice President Kamala Harris, filmmaker Spike Lee and members of Congress, with a eulogy from the Rev. Al Sharpton. There was also a “call to action” from civil rights lawyer Ben Crump demanding “swift justice” against police who commit acts of violence against African-Americans.
In their remarks, the religious leaders struck a delicate balance, urging support for a grieving family while reflecting on the sadness and anger of a nation just days after witnessing another attack on a black American by police.
His family “borne the unsolicited… and unjustifiable burden of mourning their loved one while demanding justice,” said senior pastor J Lawrence Turner. “We are praying for you that God continues to give you strength, because your strength has kept us steadfast and has helped us constructively channel our outrage and turn our anger into action.”
In his passionate eulogy, Mr. Sharpton condemned the actions of the black officers charged with Nichols’ murder, arguing that the sacrifices of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for their public service. .
“People had to march and go to jail and some people lost their lives to open doors for you. How dare you act as if that sacrifice was in vain? he said.
Crump, who has represented the families of several African Americans killed by police, including the Nichols family, issued a “call for justice” demanding “speedy justice” and “equality” for victims of police violence.
Five officers involved in the attack have been fired from the department and charged with second-degree murder.
A program for the funeral – a Celebration of the life of Tire Nichols – says that “he loved skateboarding, watching the sunset, photography and above all helping people”.
“He had the most contagious smile,” he says.
Prominently features a quote that was on his photography website: “My vision is to bring my viewers to what I am seeing through my eyes and through my lens.”
Crump called for justice for Nichols as the son of grieving parents and the father of a 4-year-old, “but most of all, the human being,” he said.
Video footage of officers beating Nichols did not include “an ounce of humanity,” Crump said.
“Why can’t they see humanity in Tyre?” she asked.
Keyana Dixon, her older sister, fondly remembered growing up with her younger brother, whose family knew him as a steward of peace who showed kindness to others.
“I see the world showing her love and fighting for her justice, but all I want is my little brother back,” Ms Dixon said, speaking through tears. “Even in his passing, he was still courteous: he asked them to ‘please stop.'”
The vice president, who was invited to attend the service by Nichols’ mother and stepfather, said the “violent act” committed against their son “was not in the interest of public safety, was not in the interest of maintaining public safety.” .
“Didn’t he also have the right to be sure?” she said.
Ms. Harris urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, bipartisan police reform legislation that passed the House of Representatives in 2021 but stalled in a deadlocked Senate with Republican opposition.
The bill, named after the black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, was co-authored by then-Sen. Harris.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to meet with President Joe Biden on February 2 as the White House and lawmakers pledge to reintroduce the bill, though it is likely to face resistance from the now-controlled House. the Republicans.
The legislation was initially intended to revise so-called “qualified immunity” policies, which can protect officers from civil lawsuits and make it easier to prosecute police for killing people or committing misconduct. Republican lawmakers have resisted those efforts.
“May the memory of Tire light the way to peace and justice,” Ms. Harris said in her brief remarks.
His mother, RowVaughn Wells, also urged members of Congress to pass the bill. “If we don’t, the next child that dies,” she said through tears, “will have blood on their hands.”