Tyre Nichols’s family and friends gathered for a funeral on Wednesday that blended a celebration of his life with outrage over the brutal beating he endured at the hands of Memphis police.
Rev Al Sharpton and vice-president Kamala Harris both delivered impassioned speeches calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a broad package of reforms that includes a national registry for police officers disciplined for misconduct, a ban on no-knock warrants and other measures.
Ms Harris said the beating of Mr 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.
Mr Sharpton began his eulogy by recognising family members of other people who were killed by police who attended the funeral, including George Floyd, Botham Jean, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor.
He said the officers who beat Mr Nichols might have acted differently if real accountability for their actions had existed. He also said he believes that if Mr Nichols had been white, “you wouldn’t have beat him like that”.
“We understand that there are concerns about public safety. We understand that there are needs that deal with crime,” Mr Sharpton said.
“But you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself. You don’t stand up to thugs in the street by becoming thugs yourself. You don’t fight gangs by becoming five armed men against an unarmed man. That ain’t the police. That’s punks.”
His remarks drew rousing applause from the crowd.
“If that man had been white, you wouldn’t have beat him like that,” Mr Sharpton said.
Rev Lawrence Turner called Mr 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”.
“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,” Mr Turner said. “We have come and we shall overcome.”
Tiffany Rachal, mother of Jalen Randle, who was fatally shot by a Houston police officer in 2022, sang a rendition of the classic gospel standard Total Praise to rousing applause from the congregation and Mr Nichols’s family.
“All of the mothers all over the world need to come together, need to come together to stop all of this,” Ms Rachal said.
A montage of photos of Mr Nichols and images from protests that followed the news of his death were shown on large screens.
In the three weeks since Mr Nichols’ death, five police officers have been fired and charged with murder. Their specialised unit has been disbanded. Two more officers have been suspended. Two Memphis Fire Department emergency medical workers and a lieutenant were also fired, and more disciplinary action could be forthcoming.
[ Tyre Nichols killing: Anger and outrage leads to calls for policing reform in US ]
But Wednesday was about Mr Nichols, a 29-year-old skateboarder and amateur photographer who worked making boxes at FedEx, made friends during morning visits to Starbucks and was said to have always greeted his mother and stepfather when he returned home with a sunny, “Hello, parents!”
Mr Nichols was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a four-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said.
Mr Nichols grew up in Sacramento, California, and loved the San Francisco 49ers. He came to Memphis just before the coronavirus pandemic and remained there. He was fine with this 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 had described him as joyful and kind, quick with a smile, and 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.
The beating of Mr Nichols, who was black, happened after police stopped him for an alleged traffic violation on January 7th. Video released after pressure from Mr Nichols’s family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching him, kicking him and striking with him batons as he screamed for his mother.
His death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police of their use of force that were later shown to have minimised or omitted mention of violent encounters.