Tyre Nichols funeral: Family and activists call for change

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (NewsNation) — Tyre Nichols was laid to rest Wednesday, three weeks after he died following a deadly beating by Memphis police officers during a traffic stop.

Nichols, a Black 29-year-old skateboarder and amateur photographer, 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’ funeral was held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, delivered the eulogy. In the emotional address, Sharpton spoke about what it meant for Nichols to have died at the hands of Black police officers.

“In the city that Dr. King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death. There’s nothing more insulting and offensive,” said Sharpton. “You don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself”

Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney who represents the Nichols family, delivered a call to action, demanding justice and equality.

“We have to make sure they see us as human beings,” said Crump, “We have the god given right to say I am a human being and I deserve justice. Not just any justice, but equal justice.”

Among those in attendance were Vice President Kamala Harris; Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor; Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, and the families of Eric Garner and Stephon Clark.

“This is not about politics, it’s about justice,” Sharpton said. “People are coming from all over the world, and we are coming because we’re all Tyre, now.”

The deaths of Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Floyd in Minneapolis, Garner in New York City and Clark in Sacramento, California, at the hands of police, sparked protests across the nation about racial injustice.

In a surprising move, Vice President Kamala Harris was also brought to the pulpit and asked to give a brief address. Harris commended the family for their strength and promised to push Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was proposed in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Nichols’ family also spoke at the funeral. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, showing her support for the George Floyd act.

“We need it passed. We need to take some action. Because there should be no other child that should suffer,” said Wells, Tyre Nichols’ mother.

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 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 and they were incredibly close, she said.

Last week, friends at a memorial service described him as joyful and kind, quick with a smile, and 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 service.

On Tuesday night, Nichols’ family shared their thoughts on the latest discipline to be handed down to the 10 first responders who in some way participated in the arrest and medical treatment of Nichols.

At Mason Temple in Memphis, the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech before his assassination 55 years ago, supporters stood in solidarity with the family.

 “We wanted to start this right on the sacred ground. This is holy ground. And this family now is ours and they’re in the hands of history and they are in the hands of those who will fight,” Sharpton said.

In the three weeks since Nichols’ death, five police officers have been fired and charged with murder, and the specialized unit they were a part of was disbanded. Two more officers have been suspended. Also fired: two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical workers and a lieutenant. And more discipline could be coming.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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