The mother of Tyre Nichols said through tears at his funeral Wednesday (Feb. 1) that her son was a “beautiful person,” and that the circumstances of his death were “unimaginable” as a multitude of people called for justice in his killing.
“I promise you the only thing that is keeping me going is that I truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God,” said RowVaughn Wells. “And I guess now his assignment is done and he’s been taken home.”
She also called for passage of legislation to address police violence that would hold officers accountable. “I just need..that George Floyd bill – get it passed,” she said. “There should be no way any child should suffer the way my son suffered.”
Vice President Kamala Harris and Rev. Al Sharpton, who gave the eulogy, were also on hand to call for passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which still has not passed, last being voted on in September 2021.
Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker, who was the father of a 4-year-old boy, died Jan. 10, three days after a vicious beating by a group of Memphis police officers. Graphic footage of the incident was released Jan. 27, eliciting widespread shock.
The emotional memorial, seemed to become part of a morbid, and all too frequent ritual in Black America: the funeral of a young Black person who lost their life at the hands of law enforcement.
At the service, held at Memphis’ Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, and attended by the family members of several other Black people who were killed by police, Harris Nichols’ mother and stepfather Rodney Wells. But she was also invited to the pulpit by Sharpton and spoke briefly about Nichols death and the cause of it.
"Mothers around the world, when their babies are born, pray to God when they hold that child that that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life" said Harris, who demanded passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. "Yet we have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today."
Speaking immediately after, Sharpton, who said he visited the National Civil Rights Museum -- which is the site where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, located about three miles from the church, addressed the five ex-officers charged in Nichols' death.
“You thought you threw Dr. King’s dream in a pit, but every time you throw something in a pit God raises it up and changes the whole world,” Sharpton said, addressing the officers charged in NIchols’ death. “We understand there are concerns about crime but you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourselves.”
Sharpton also called for passage of the Floyd act and brought out the desire of Nichols to get home the night he was beaten and juxtaposed that with the desire of many Black Americans.
“All he wanted to do is get home,” Sharpton preached. “Home is not just a physical location, home is where you’re not vulnerable, home is where everything is all right…I come to Memphis to say I’m trying to get home, every Black in America stands up every day trying to get home.”
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Outrage Triggered By Violent Footage
Video footage of the severe beating of Nichols, who was pulled over in a traffic stop on Jan. 7, was released by the City of Memphis, which shocked the nation and triggered protests in several cities, which remained largely peaceful. A multitude of people ranging from activists to politicians expressed their disgust and called for not only for justice for Nichols, but overall federal police reform.
So far, five officers, at the scene of the arrest, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith were fired from the Memphis Police Department on Jan. 20 after an internal investigation. On Thursday (Jan. 26), they were each charged with one count of second-degree murder, aggravated assault-acting in concert, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and one count of official oppression. Each of the former officers is African American, as was Nichols. They were freed on bond Friday (Jan. 27).
A sixth officer, Preston Hemphill was relieved of duty by Memphis Police officials and two Shelby County Sheriff's deputies were also placed on leave. Meanwhile, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis announced that the “Scorpion” unit, which was intended to crack down on violent crime in the city has been permanently dispanded.
An internal investigation is underway as well as a federal civil rights probe. Van Turner, president of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP told BET.com that there is more that should come out.
“We believe others are involved and this information will likely come out in the investigation,” said Turner in an email response. “There are some Sheriff Deputies which are accountable as well as some emergency medical technicians. There may be others.”
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