Mourners demand justice at funeral for Tyre Nichols as family calls on Congress to combat police violence

Civil rights leaders, Kamala Harris and family members plea for his memory to ‘shine a light on the path toward peace and justice’

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 01 February 2023 23:26 GMT
Tyre Nichols' mother speaks of ‘unimaginable pain’ of losing son

Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life of Tyre Nichols on Wednesday evening in 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 horrific footage of the incident released last week has revived an urgent demand for reform.

Reflecting on the far-reaching shock 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 attorney Ben Crump demanding “swift justice” against police who commit violence against Black Americans.

In their remarks, faith 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 yet another attack against a Black American by police.

His family “endured the unsolicited ... and unjustifiable burden of grieving their loved one and at the same time demanding justice”, senior pastor J Lawrence Turner said. “We’re praying for you that God will continue to give you strength, because your strength has held us steady, and helped us constructively channel our outrage and turn our anger into action.”

In his impassioned eulogy, Mr Sharpton condemned the actions of the Black officers who have been charged with the murder of Nichols, 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 the doors for you. How dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing?” he said.

Mr Crump, who has represented the families of several Black Americans killed by police, including the family of Nichols, issued a “plea for justice” that demanded “swift” and “equal justice” for the victims of police violence.

Five officers involved in the attack were fired from the department and charged with second-degree murder.

A program for the funeral – a Celebration of Life for Tyre Nichols – reads that he “loved skateboarding, watching the sunset, photography and most of all helping people”.

“He had the most infectious smile,” it reads.

It prominently features a quote that was on his photography website: “My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens.”

Mr Crump issued a plea for justice for Nichols as both a son to grieving parents and father to a 4-year-old boy, “but most of all, the human being”, he said.

Video footage of police officers beating Nichols did not include “one ounce of humanity”, Mr Crump said.

“Why can’t they see the humanity in Tyre?” he asked.

Rev Al Sharpton delivers a eulogy at a funeral service for Tyre Nichols in Memphis on Wednesday (Getty Images)

Keyana Dixon, his 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 him love and fighting for his justice, but all I want is my baby brother back,” Ms Dixon said, speaking through tears. “Even in his demise, he was still polite: He asked them to ‘Please stop.’”

The vice president, who was invited to attend the service by Nichols’s mother and stepfather, said that the “violent act” committed against their son “was not in pursuit of public safety, it was not in the interest of keeping the public safe”.

“Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?” she said.

Kamala Harris, left, embraces RowVaughn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, during a funeral for her son (Reuters)

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

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to meet with President Joe Biden on 2 February as the White House and lawmakers pledge to reintroduce the bill, though it is likely to face resistance from the now-Republican controlled House.

The legislation intially 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.

“Let the memory of Tyre shine a light on the path toward 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, that next child that dies,” she said, speaking through tears, “that blood will be on their hands”.

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