Kamala Harris speaks at Tyre Nichols funeral in Memphis calling on Congress to pass police reform legislation

‘This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety ... Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?’

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 01 February 2023 22:23 GMT
‘We mourn with you’: Kamala Harris gives passionate speech at Tyre Nichols’ funeral

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed a congregation in Memphis gathered for a funeral service for Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was fatally beaten by a group of Memphis Police Department officers.

The vice president was among several members of President Joe Biden’s administration attending the service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on 1 February.

“You have been extraordinary,” she said of Nichols’s mother RowVaughn Wells and stepfather Rodney Wells.

“We have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today,” she continued. “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.”

Nichols died following “an act of violence at the hands and the feet of the people who have been charged with keeping them safe,” she said.

“This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety. It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe,” she continued. “Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?”

She 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 in honour of the Black man who was murdered by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, was co-authored by then-Senator Harris.

“Let the memory of Tyre shine a light on the path toward peace and justice,” Ms Harris said in her brief remarks.

Vice President Kamala Harris sits with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells during the funeral service for Wells' son Tyre Nichols at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on February 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee
Vice President Kamala Harris sits with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells during the funeral service for Wells' son Tyre Nichols at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on February 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee (Getty Images)

Brutal footage of the beating of Nichols earlier this month was released to the public last week, igniting urgent calls for reform. Nichols died after three days in hospital.

Five of the officers involved in his death have been fired from the department and charged with second-degree murder.

The vice president – seated next to Nichols’s mother and stepfather – was invited to speak by the Rev Al Sharpton, who was invited by the family to deliver a eulogy at the service.

At least three members of the Biden administration attended the service, including Ms Harris, who was invited by the family to attend the service earlier this week.

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms – who is a senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement – also attended the service, along with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who now serves as a senior White House adviser overseeing the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Democratic US Rep Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Democratic US Rep Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas also were in attendance.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to meet with President Biden on 2 February as lawmakers pledge to re-introduce a police reform bill, though it is likely to face resistance from the now-Republican controlled House.

The legislation intended to overhaul so-called “qualified immunity” policies, which can shield officers from civil lawsuits and make it easier to prosecute police for killing people or engaging in misconduct. Republican lawmakers have resisted those efforts.

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