MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Nichols’ Band family and friends remembered him on Wednesday with songs of faith and heartfelt tributes, combining a celebration of his life with outraged calls for police reform following the brutal beating he endured at the hands of the Memphis police.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, fought back tears as she spoke fondly of her son.
“The only thing that keeps me going is that I really believe my son was sent here by order of God. And I think his job is done now. He’s gone home,” she said, urging Congress to reform the police force.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Vice President Kamala Harris both gave impassioned speeches calling on lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Acta broad package of reforms, including a national register of police officers punished for misconduct, a ban on no-knock orders and other measures.
Harris said the beating of Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, by five black police officers was a violent act that violated the police’s stated mission to ensure public safety.
“It was not in the interest of the safety of the public, because one has to ask, was it not in the interest of the safety of the public that Tire Nichols be with us today? Wasn’t he also entitled to safety? So when we talk about public safety, let’s understand what it means in its truest form. Tire Nichols should have been safe,” she said.
Nichols was beaten after police detained him for an alleged traffic violation on January 7. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly beating, kicking and beating him with a baton as he screamed for his mother.
Sharpton said the officers who beat Nichols might have acted differently if there was real accountability for their actions. He also said he believes that if Nichols had been white, “you wouldn’t have hit him like that.”
“We understand there are public safety concerns. We understand that there are needs related to crime. But you don’t fight crime by becoming a criminal yourself. You don’t take on thugs on the street who become thugs themselves. You don’t fight gangs by becoming five armed men against one unarmed man. That’s not the police. They’re punks,” he said.
Relatives of other black men and women killed by police, including George FloydBreona TaylorBotham Jean and Eric Garner — also attended the funeral, and Nichols’ mother called on officials to prevent more tragedies.
“We need to take action because there shouldn’t be another child who should have to suffer like my son — and every other parent here has lost their children — we need to get that law passed,” Wells said. “Because if we don’t, that blood — the next child to die, that blood will be on their hands.”
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle, who was fatally shot by a Houston police officer sang a rendition of the classic gospel standard “Total Praise” in 2022 to the applause of the congregation and Nichols’ family.
“All mothers around the world need to come together, need to come together to stop all this,” Rachal said.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’ family, referred to the graphic video which shows the officers beating, kicking and beating Nichols even after he lay helpless on the ground.
“Why couldn’t they see humanity in Tyre?” he asked.
Tire’s sister, Keyana Dixon, said she felt a pain like she’d never experienced before “when those monsters killed my little brother.” LaToya Yizar, whose mother was Nichols’ godmother, read from a poem she wrote titled “I’m Just Trying to Go Home,” in which she recalled Nichols’ words to the officers.
Sharpton said he took his daughter Ashley early Wednesday to the grounds of the former Lorraine Motel, where Reverend Martin Luther King. Jr. was shot on April 4, 1968. He noted that King was in Memphis to support a strike by city sanitation workers, most of whom were black.
“The reason why … what happened with Tire is so personal to me is that five black men who wouldn’t have had a job in the police force would never have been considered part of an elite squad, in the city where Dr. King lost his life not far from that balcony, you beat a brother to death,” Sharpton said.
A skateboarder and amateur photographer who boxed for FedEx, 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 and they were incredibly close, she said. He even got her name tattooed on his arm.
Nichols made friends during morning visits to Starbucks and always greeted his mother and stepfather when he came home with a sunny “Hello, parents!” Nichols, the baby of their family, had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said.
In the three weeks following Nichols’ death, five police officers were fired and charged with murder. Their specialized unit was disbanded. Two other officers have been suspended. Two Memphis Fire Department medical officers and a lieutenant were also fired. And there could be more discipline.
Attorneys for two of the indicted officers, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr., said they will plead not guilty. Blake Ballin, Mills’ attorney, told the AP the videos “raised as many questions as they answered.”
Lawyers for the three other agents have not commented to the AP.
Nichols’ death was the latest in a series of early police accounts of the use of force that were later shown to have minimized or omitted reporting of violent encounters.
AP reporters Travis Loller and Jonathan Mattise contributed from Nashville, Tenn.
For more information on the Tire Nichols case, visit https://apnews.com/hub/tyre-nichols.