Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life of Tire Nichols Wednesday evening in a ceremony inside the Mississippi Boulevard Baptist Church in Memphis.
The 29-year-old Black man was fatally beaten by a group of Memphis Police Department officers last month, and a horrifying film of the incident released last week has revived urgent calls for reform.
Reflecting on the widespread shock of his death, those present at his funeral included Vice President Kamala Harris, filmmaker Spike Lee and members of Congress, with a eulogy by the Reverend Al Sharpton. There was also a “call to action” from civil rights attorney Ben Crump demanding “swift justice” against police officers who commit violence against Black Americans.
In their comments, faith leaders struck a delicate balance, trying to support a grieving family while reflecting on the nation’s grief and anger just after witnessing yet another police attack against a Black American.
His family suffered “the unwanted and unjustifiable burden of grieving their loved one while demanding justice”, said senior pastor J Lawrence Turner. “We pray for you that God will continue to give you strength, because your strength has kept us steady, and has helped us to express our anger constructively and to put our anger into action.”
In his speech, Mr. Sharpton criticized the actions of the Black officers accused of murdering Nichols, arguing that civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for their public service.
“People had to march and go to jail and some people lost their lives to open the doors for you. How dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing?” he said.
Mr Crump, who represented the families of several Black Americans killed by police, including the Nichols family, issued a “plea for justice” demanding “swift” and “equal justice” for the victims of the violence. police.
Five officers involved in the attack were fired from the department and charged with second degree murder.
Program for the funeral – a A Celebration of Life for Tire Nichols – it reads that he “liked skateboarding, watching sunsets, photography and most of all helping people”.
“He had the most infectious smile,” it reads.
He prominently displays a quote from his photography website: “My vision is to bring my audience deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens.”
Mr. Crump issued a plea for justice for Nichols as the son of grieving parents and the father of a 4-year-old boy, “but most of all, the person,” he said.
Footage of police officers who beat Nichols did not contain “one ounce of humanity”, Mr Crump said.
“Why don’t they see the humanity in Bonn?” he asked.
Keyana Dixon, his older sister, remembered growing up with her younger brother, who was known to her family as a peacekeeper who showed kindness to others.
“I see the world showing him love and fighting for his justice, but I just want my baby brother back,” Ms Dixon said, speaking through tears. “Even when he was down, he was still polite: he asked them to ‘Please stop.'”
The vice president, who was invited to the service by Nichols’ mother and stepfather, said the “violent act” against her son “was not in the interest of public safety, it was not in the interest of keeping the public safe.”
“Wasn’t he also entitled to the right to be safe?” she said.
Mr. Harris urged Congress to pass the Justice in Policing George Floyd Act, bipartisan police reform legislation that passed the House of Representatives in 2021 but was stalled in a Senate deadlocked with Republican opposition.
The bill, named in honor of the Black man murdered by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, was co-authored by then-Senator Harris.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to meet with President Joe Biden on February 2 and the White House as lawmakers vow to reintroduce the bill, though it is likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled House. now.
The legislation was originally intended to reform “qualified immunity” policies, which can protect officers from civil lawsuits and make it easier to prosecute police for killing people or engaging in misconduct. behavior. Republican lawmakers resisted those efforts.
“Let the memory of the Medals shine a light on the path towards peace and justice,” Ms Harris said in her brief remarks.
His mother RowVaughn Wells also urged members of Congress to pass the bill. “If we don’t, the next child to die,” she said as she spoke through tears, “that blood will be on their hands”.