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Mourners farewell Tyre Nichols at Memphis funeral

At his funeral in Memphis, mourners have demanded justice for Tyre Nichols and an end to US police violence against Black people.

February 2, 2023
By Alyssa Pointer
2 February 2023

Family and friends of Tyre Nichols have gathered in a Memphis church to pay their final respects to the Black 29-year-old father whose fatal beating by police last month transformed him into the new face of the United States racial justice movement.

Speaking over a flower-bedecked casket at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, preachers recalled a young man who loved photography and skateboarding, and demanded justice for Nichols and an end to police violence against Black people.

The relatives of other Black people killed by police in cities across the US came to offer comfort to Nichols’ family, including a woman from Texas whose son was killed by a Houston police officer, who sang before a black-clad gospel choir.

Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Memphis and embraced Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, in the pews before addressing the congregation.

“This is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of people who had been charged with keeping them safe,” Harris said. 

“Tyre Nichols should have been safe.”

Nichols died on January 10 in hospital from injuries he sustained three days earlier when beaten by Memphis police who pulled him over while he was driving home, an incident that Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family, branded a “police lynching”.

The Memphis Police Department fired five of the officers, who also are Black. Prosecutors charged them last week with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression.

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, who has often spoken at the funerals of victims of police brutality, decried the five officers as “thugs” and traitors to their race as he eulogised Nichols in the city where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968.

“You didn’t get on the police department by yourself,” Sharpton said as the congregation clapped and shouted. 

“People had to march and go to jail and some lost their lives to open the doors for you, and how dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing?”

Two other officers implicated in the events leading to Nichols’ death have been relieved of duty — effectively suspended — and are under investigation. Two paramedics and their on-scene supervisor were dismissed on Monday from the city fire department, while two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies have been suspended.

Police video of the confrontation released by the city on Friday showed officers dousing Nichols with pepper spray and pummelling him with punches, kicks and baton blows as he cried out for his mother. One officer was seen firing a Taser at Nichols when he attempted to flee.

The footage ends showing Nichols was left handcuffed, bloodied and slumped against the side of a police vehicle for nearly a quarter-hour before receiving medical attention.

The chief of police, Cerelyn Davis, has called the conduct seen in the video “inhumane” and said investigators have not substantiated that Nichols was driving recklessly when he was pulled over, as arresting officers asserted at the time.

Civil rights advocates and lawyers for Nichols’ family have condemned the beating as the latest case of a Black person brutalised by a racially biased law enforcement system that disproportionately targets people of colour, even when officers involved are not white.

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