Mourners ranged from Vice President Kamala Harris to activist pastors. Al Sharpton on Wednesday celebrated the life of Tire Nichols, whose death at the hands of Memphis police officers led to second-degree murder charges against five officers.
“Mothers around the world, when their child is born, when they hold that child, pray to God that that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life,” Harris said at Nichols’ funeral said the crowd applauding the Memphis sanctuary.
“When we look at the situation, this family has lost their son and their brother because they were accused of violence at the hands and feet of the man who kept them safe.”
Nichols, 29, who is black, was overpowered but repeatedly beaten after being pulled over by Memphis police on Jan. 7 in traffic. He died three days later.
“The people of our country mourn with you,” Harris told Nichols’ family.
Sharpton delivered an impassioned eulogy from a painfully familiar character, paying homage to Nichols’ life and sounding the clarion call for justice.
Sharpton said he visited the Lorraine Motel, where the priest was. Martin Luther King. Assassinated in Memphis in 1968. He called out five black former military officers accused of killing Nichols.
“There is nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us who work hard to open doors than that you walk in those doors and act like someone we have to fight for to get you through those doors. You don’t go by yourself The police department,” Sharpton said.
If Nichols had been white, Sharpton said, “you wouldn’t have hit him like that,” referring to the five former officers.
“You don’t fight crime by being a criminal yourself…that’s not the cops. That’s punk.”
The pastor cited King’s 1968 “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, in which King said he had reached the top of the mountain and seen the Promised Land. He said the former police officer accused of killing Nichols had failed to live up to that legacy. “He wants you to take us to the Promised Land,” Sharpton said.
Nichols’ mother, Row Vaughn Wells, remembered her son as “a beautiful man” and echoed others in calling for passage of the George Floyd policing bill as he celebrated his life.
“No other child should suffer the loss of a child like my son and all the other parents here,” she said.
Nichols’ older sister, Keyana Dixon, recalled taking care of her younger brother.
“With Ty, I don’t mind,” she said. “He just wants to watch cartoons and a big bowl of cereal. So it’s easy to watch him.”
Dixon said she just wanted her “little brother back”.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Nichols family, said the charges against the five former officials in Nichols’ death set a precedent. Within 20 days of his death, the former officers were charged with murder and kidnapping.
“We can count to 20, and every time you kill one of us on video, we say the legacy of Tire Nichols is that we get equal justice quickly,” he said.
Mourners at Mississippi Avenue Christian Church turned their attention away from heart-wrenching footage of Nichols being beaten in a hospital bed that day, his face badly swollen and bruised before his death, sparking outrage across the country protest.
Harris was joined by other senior Biden administration officials, including White House Office of Public Engagement Director Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Atlanta mayor and senior adviser to the president Mitch Landryu.
Tamika Palmer spoke on behalf of other black people killed by police when her daughter, Breonna Taylor, was killed by police in a botched March 2020 raid on her home in Louisville, Kentucky Shot and killed.
And Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, whose name reverberated across the country after his death in May 2020 after a former Minneapolis police officer The police knelt on his neck and back for more than nine minutes.
“This family needs all the support they can get,” Gwen Carr’s son Eric Garner, who died after being choked by an NYPD officer in 2014, told CNN Wednesday before attending the funeral. “It’s so new for them, but for me it’s just digging up old wounds.”
The service was originally scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. local time, but was postponed due to bad weather and travel delays. It begins shortly after 1pm on the first day of Black History Month with African tribal drummers and a gospel choir.
Nichols’ black coffin, topped with a bouquet of white flowers, served as a centerpiece and the young man was hailed by the priest. J. Lawrence Turner was “a good man, a beautiful soul, a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a man — died too soon.”
Mourners watched a slideshow of Nichols smiling at different times in his life. A photomontage opens with a quote from Nichols: “My vision is to give the audience an insight into what I see through my eyes and see through my lens.”
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle, a 29-year-old black man who was killed by a Houston police officer last year, spoke to the family before singing Condolences, “Lord, I will lift up my eyes to the mountains.”
The families of Sharpton and Nichols gathered Tuesday at the headquarters of the Mason Temple Church of God In Christ in Memphis — where Kim is. Delivered his famous “Hilltop” speech the night before he was killed.
“We will continue to go to the top of Martin’s Hill in Till’s name,” Sharpton said at the “sacred place” where MLK spoke 55 years ago.
Sharpton reflected on the family’s loss as their son’s name was added to the pantheon of black people who died after encounters with police.
“They never recover from the loss,” Sharpton said.
Before Wednesday’s service, Dan Beazley, 61, carried a towering wooden cross outside a Memphis church. He said he drove 12 hours from Northville, Michigan — including through an ice storm — to pay his respects and light a lamp.
Nichols is described as a dutiful son with his mother’s name tattooed on his arm, a loving father to a 4-year-old boy, and a free spirit who loves to skateboard and capture sunsets on camera.
Public outrage over the disturbing video of the arrest has led to the firing or discipline of other public servants who were present, including the firing of three Memphis Fire Department personnel. Two sheriff’s deputies have been placed on leave. In addition, two police officers were suspended.
Nichols’ funeral came less than a week after the video of the attack on him was publicly released Friday night, shocking a nation long accustomed to videos of police brutality, especially against people of color.
The brutal attack sparked mostly peaceful protests from New York to Los Angeles and renewed calls for police reform and a review of police forces that specialize in targeting guns in high-crime areas.
The 20-hour video has not yet been released, Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy said Wednesday on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” Mulroy said the audio from the recording was “probably more useful” in some cases than what the video showed.
He did not specify what could be heard in the recording, which he said included captured sounds after the beating occurred.
The release of the footage will be at the discretion of city officials, he added.
The prosecutor said he had asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to expedite its investigation of other emergency workers — in addition to the five already indicted — to see if any charges were warranted against them. Those included the officials who submitted the documents, he said.
Nichols was the youngest of four children, according to Row Vaughn Wells.
He moved to Memphis from California before the Covid-19 pandemic and stayed there after the mandatory lockdown triggered by the health crisis, his mother said.
Nichols was a regular at Starbucks in Germantown, Tennessee, where he befriended a group of people who kept their phones by the table and talked mostly about sports, especially his beloved San Francisco 49ers.
He usually takes a nap after going to Starbucks before going to work at FedEx. He would come home for dinner during his break.
According to his mother, Nichols was also a regular among skateboarders at Shelby Farm Park, where he captured unforgettable sunsets.
In fact, taking pictures is a form of self-expression that Nichols’ writing could never capture, helping him “see the world in a more creative way,” he writes on his photography website.
He prefers to capture landscapes.
“I hope one day people will see what I see and hopefully appreciate my work based on its quality and ideals,” he wrote.
Before moving to Memphis, Nichols lived in Sacramento, California, where “skating gave him wings,” recalls a friend.
On Wednesday, one of the songs played at the end of the service was a gospel version of Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Coming.”