‘We love you, Tyre’: Mourners gather for Nichols’ funeral
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tyre Nichols ‘ family and friends gathered Wednesday for a funeral intended to celebrate his life three weeks after he died following a brutal beating by Memphis police that has sparked a new round of calls for police reform.
As the service began, a group of singers and drummers beating African instruments proceeded to the front of the church where Nichols’ black casket was draped in a large white bouquet of flowers.
“We love you, Tyre,” the performers sang and attendees joined in.
The Mississippi Boulevard Celebration Choir sang the popular gospel worship song, “You Are My Strength,” as Nichols’ family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and family attorney Ben Crump listened with the church full of mourners.
Sharpton began his eulogy by recognizing family members of others who have been killed by police who attended the funeral, including George Floyd, Botham Jean, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. He then invited Vice President Kamala Harris to speak to the mourners.
“We mourn with you and the people of our country mourn with you,” Harris told Nichols’ family.
Harris said the beating of Nichols by police officers was a violent act that went against the stated mission of police to ensure public safety.
“It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe, because one must ask, was not it in the interest of keeping the public safe that Tyre Nichols would be with us today? Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe? So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in it’s truest form. Tyre Nichols should have been safe,” she said.
Harris called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.
“We should not delay and we will not be denied. It is nonnegotiable,” Harris said.
The Rev. J. Lawrence Turner called Nichols “a good person, a beautiful soul, a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a human being” who was gone too soon and “denied his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, denied the dignity of his humanity, denied the right to see the sun set another day, to embrace his mother, hang out with his friends, hold his child, and the right to grow old.”
“As we celebrate Tyre’s life and comfort this family, we serve notice to this nation that the rerun of this episode that makes Black lives hashtags has been canceled and will not be renewed for another season,” Turner said. “We have come and we shall overcome.”
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle, who was fatally shot by a Houston police officer in 2022, sang a rendition of the classic gospel standard “Total Praise” to rousing applause from the congregation and Nichols’ family.
“All of the mothers all over the world need to come together, need to come together to stop all of this,” Rachal said.
A montage of photos of Nichols and images from protests that followed the news of his death were shown on large screens.
In the three weeks since Nichols’ death, five police officers were fired and charged with murder. Their specialized unit was disbanded. Two more officers have been suspended. Two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical workers and a lieutenant were also fired. And more discipline could be coming.
But Wednesday will be about Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and amateur photographer who worked making boxes at FedEx, made friends during morning visits to Starbucks and always greeted his mother and stepfather when he returned home with a sunny, “Hello, parents!”
Nichols was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said.
Nichols grew up in Sacramento, California, and loved the San Francisco 49ers. He came to Memphis just before the coronavirus pandemic and got stuck. But he was fine with it because he was with his mother, RowVaughn Wells, and they were incredibly close, she said. He even had her name tattooed on his arm.
Friends at a memorial service last week described him as joyful and kind, quick with a smile, often silly.
“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who traveled to Memphis from California for the memorial service.
Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, will deliver the eulogy at the funeral and Crump, a national civil rights attorney who represents the Nichols family, will deliver a call to action. The start of the service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church was delayed for hours because of icy weather and travel hazards. The funeral program included some scenic photos taken by Nichols.
The beating of Nichols, who was Black, happened after police stopped him for an alleged traffic violation Jan. 7. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching him, kicking him and striking with him batons as he screamed for his mother.
Nichols’ death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police about their use of force that were later shown to have minimized or omitted mention of violent encounters.
AP reporter Travis Loller reported contributed from Nashville, Tenn.