At Tyre Nichols’ funeral, Kamala Harris calls on Congress for action on policing

Memphis: Speaking at Tyre Nichols’ funeral, US Vice President Kamala Harris has called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Harris got a standing ovation as she was introduced at the service for Nichols, who died after a brutal beating by Memphis police.

A screen honours Tyre Nichols before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards.Credit:AP

“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 with us today?” Harris said.

Tyre Nichols ′ family and friends gathered on Wednesday for a funeral intended to celebrate his life three weeks after he died following a brutal beating by Memphis police that has sparked a new round of calls for police reform.

A group of singers and drummers beat African instruments as the service began. The performers proceeded to the front of the church where Tyre’s black casket was draped in a large white bouquet of flowers.

“We love you, Tyre,” the performers sang. The attendees joined in.

Vice President Kamala Harris sits with RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells during the funeral service for Wells’ son, Tyre Nichols.Credit:AP

Singers wearing all black sang, “Strength Like No Other,” as Nichols’ family, the Reverend Al Sharpton and the family’s attorney, Ben Crump listened, along with a church full of mourners.

Sharpton began his eulogy by recognising family members of others who have been killed by police who attended the funeral, including George Floyd, Botham Jean, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor. He then invited Vice President Kamala Harris to speak to the mourners.

“We mourn with you and the people of our country mourn with you,” Harris told Nichols’ family.

Harris said the beating of Nichols by police officers was a violent act that went against the stated mission of police to ensure 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 with us today? Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe? So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form. Tyre Nichols should have been safe,” she said.

Harris called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which aims to combat police bias, the use of excessive force and racial profiling.

“We should not delay and we will not be denied. It is non-negotiable,” Harris said.

The Reverend J. Lawrence Turner called Nichols “a good person, a beautiful soul, a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a human being” who was gone too soon and “denied his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, denied the dignity of his humanity, denied the right to see the sun set another day, to embrace his mother, hang out with his friends, hold his child, and the right to grow old.”

RowVaughn Wells and her husband Rodney Wells arrive for the funeral service for her son Tyre Nichols at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis.Credit:AP

“As we celebrate Tyre’s life and comfort this family, we serve notice to this nation that the rerun of this episode that makes black lives hashtags has been cancelled and will not be renewed for another season,” Turner said. “We have come and we shall overcome.”

In the three weeks since Nichols’ death, five police officers were fired and charged with murder. Their specialised unit was disbanded. Two more officers have been suspended. Two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical workers and a lieutenant were also fired. And more discipline could be coming.

But Wednesday will be about Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and amateur photographer who worked making boxes at FedEx, made friends during morning visits to Starbucks and always greeted his mother and stepfather when he returned home with a sunny, “Hello, parents!”

Nichols was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said.

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, RowVaughn Wells, and they were incredibly close, she said. He even had her name tattooed on his arm.

Friends at a memorial service last week described him as joyful and kind, quick with a smile, often silly.

“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who travelled to Memphis from California for the memorial service.

Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten by police during a traffic stop in Memphis on January 7.Credit:AP

Sharpton gathered Nichols’ family and local activists Tuesday evening at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis. The historic landmark is where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech the night before he was assassinated nearly 55 years ago.

“This is not about politics; it’s about justice,” Sharpton said. “People are coming from all over the world, and we are coming because we’re all Tyre, now.”

The deaths of Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police sparked protests across the nation about racial injustice.

The beating of Nichols, who was black, happened after police stopped him for an alleged traffic violation January 7. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching him, kicking him and striking with him batons as he screamed for his mother.

Nichols’ death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police about their use of force that were later shown to have minimised or omitted mention of violent encounters.


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