Tyre Nichols, whose death at the hands of police in Memphis led to second-degree murder charges against five officers, will be remembered at a funeral service on Wednesday for the life he lived.
Nichols, 29, who was Black, was subdued yet continuously beaten after a traffic stop by Memphis police on January 7. He died three days later.
Mourners at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis are expected to celebrate Nichols’ life rather than focus on the heart-wrenching footage of the beating that left him in a hospital bed for days with his face badly swollen and bruised before his death, sparking protests across the country.
Representing other Black people killed by police, Tamika Palmer — whose daughter Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police during a botched raid in March 2020 — is expected to attend the service.
Also expected is Philonise Floyd, the younger brother of George Floyd, whose name reverberated across the nation following his May 2020 death after an ex-cop Minneapolis cop knelt on his neck and back for more than 9 minutes.
Vice President Kamala Harris also will attend the funeral, according to a White House official, joining other senior level Biden administration officials including White House Director for the Office of Public Engagement Keisha Lance Bottoms and Senior Advisor to the President Mitch Landrieu.
The service begins 10:30 a.m. local time.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, in a painfully familiar role, will deliver a eulogy that will pay tribute to Nichols’ life and serve as a clarion call for justice.
On Tuesday, Sharpton and Nichols’ family gathered at the Mason Temple Church of God In Christ headquarters in Memphis — where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famed “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the night before he was killed.
“We will continue in Tyre’s name to head up to Martin’s mountaintop,” Sharpton said from the “sacred ground” MLK delivered his speech on 55 years ago.
Sharpton said Nichols’ fatal police beating “is a disgrace to this country.”
“People from around the world watched the videotape of a man — unarmed, unprovoked — being beat to death by officers of the law,” Sharpton said.
“You thought that no one would respond. You thought no one would care. Well, tomorrow the Vice President of the United States is coming to his funeral,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton reflected on the family’s loss as their son’s name joins a list of other Black men who died after encounters with police.
“They will never ever recover from the loss. Every holiday, there’ll be a missing chair at their table. Every day this mother and father and brothers and sisters will have to remember he’s gone,” Sharpton said. “But we will never leave them.”
Nichols’ brother, Jamal Dupree, said his brother would have wanted peace as the fight for justice continues.
“My brother was the most peaceful person you ever met. He’s never lifted a finger to nobody. Never raised his voice to nobody,” Dupree said. “If my brother was here today and he had to say something, he would tell us to do this peacefully.”
Nichols has been described as a devoted son who had tattooed his mother’s name on his arm, a loving father to a 4-year-old boy, and a free spirit with a passion for skateboarding and capturing sunsets on his camera.
Public outrage over the disturbing arrest video led to firings or disciplinary action against other public servants who were at the scene, including the firings of three Memphis Fire Department personnel. Two sheriff’s deputies have been put on leave. Additionally, two more police officers have been placed on leave.
Nichols’ funeral service will take place less than a week after Friday evening’s public release of footage of the attack on Nichols shook a nation long accustomed to videos of police brutality, especially against people of color. The five officers charged with Nichols’ death are Black.
The brutal attack sparked largely peaceful protests from New York to Los Angeles as well as renewed calls for police reform and scrutiny of specialized police units that target guns in high crime areas.
Nichols was the baby of his family, the youngest of four children, according to his mother, RowVaughn Wells, who has said he usually spent Sundays doing laundry and preparing for the week.
He moved to Memphis from California right before the Covid-19 pandemic and remained there after the mandatory lock downs prompted by the health crisis, his mother has said.
Nichols was a regular at a Germantown, Tennessee, Starbucks where he befriended a group of people who regularly set aside their cellphone at a table and talked mostly about sports, particularly his beloved San Franscisco 49ers, according to friend Nate Spates Jr.
His visits to Starbucks were typically followed by a nap before heading to a his job at FedEx. His mother recalled that he would would come home for dinner during his break. His favorite dish: her homemade sesame chicken.
Nichols was also a regular among the skateboarders at Shelby Farms Park, where he photographed memorable sunsets, according to his mother.
In fact, taking pictures served as a form of self-expression that writing could never capture for Nichols, who had written on his photography website that it helped him look “at the world in a more creative way.”
He preferred capturing landscapes.
“I hope to one day let people see what i see and to hopefully admire my work based on the quality and ideals of my work,” he wrote.
Before moving to Memphis, Nichols lived in Sacramento, California, where a friend recalled “skating gave him wings.”