The funeral for Tyre Nichols was held in Memphis on Wednesday, roughly three weeks after he died following a beating by police that was caught on video and sparked a wave of protests and calls for accountability nationwide.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy, called for justice for Nichols and lamented the fact that the 29-year-old Black man was killed in the same city where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
“Let me be clear, we understand that there are concerns about public safety. We understand that there are needs to deal with crime,” Sharpton said. “But you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourselves.”
The afternoon service began with several musical performances and remarks from religious leaders, as photos of Nichols flashed across a screen.
“We have come to be of comfort and support to this family,” said the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, senior pastor of the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
“This family has endured the unsolicited, unwarranted, unreasonable, unjustifiable and massive burden of grieving their loved one and at the same time fighting for justice,” Turner added.
Several of Nichols’ siblings paid tribute to their brother, and his parents — his mother RowVaughn Wells and his stepfather Rodney Wells — also spoke.
“Tyre was a beautiful person, and for this to happen to him is just unimaginable,” RowVaughn Wells said through tears.
“I promise you the only thing that’s keeping me going is the fact that I really, truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God,” she said. “And I guess now his assignment is done.”
Vice President Kamala Harris praised Nichols’ mother and stepfather for “your strength, your courage and your grace” and said people across the U.S. were also grieving the death of their son. “The people of our country mourn with you.”
Harris added that Nichols’ violent beating by police wasn’t in the pursuit of 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 here with us today? Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?”
Ben Crump, an attorney for Nichols’ family, gave a “call to action,” organizers said. Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, were also in attendance.
Harris, Sharpton, Crump and Wells all called on federal lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which stalled in the Senate in 2021 and would introduce major changes to policing across the U.S., including the elimination of qualified immunity for officers.
Services at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis were livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.
Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after he was brutally beaten by police during a traffic stop.
Body-camera video shows officers pull over Nichols on Jan. 7 on suspicion of reckless driving. They yank Nichols from his car and try to arrest him, but he flees.
When police finally catch up with him at a second location, officers kick him, hit him with a baton and repeatedly punch him in the head in a violent encounter also captured by a surveillance camera nearby.
Five Memphis police officers have been fired and charged with Nichols’ murder, and two other officers are facing discipline. The city’s fire department fired two EMTs and a lieutenant. The Memphis Police Department also disbanded the specialized unit whose officers beat Nichols.
Nichols’ death has garnered national attention and drawn comparisons to other instances in which Black people have been killed at the hands of police, including Taylor and Floyd. President Biden said the video of officers beating Nichols left him “outraged and deeply pained.”
An avid skateboarder, Nichols had a 4-year-old son, worked at FedEx with his stepfather and had a tattoo of his mother’s name.