Cover Nichols, whose violent arrest and subsequent death led to widespread grief and outrage, will be laid to rest Wednesday after his funeral in Memphis. Nichols died on January 10, three days after he was beaten by the police at a traffic stop. Five officers were fired and charged with second degree murder.
Vice President Kamala Harris attended the service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and was called up to make brief remarks.
“We’re here on behalf of the people of our country and President Joe Biden, and we’re here to celebrate the life of Tire Nichols,” Harris said. Addressing Nichols’ mother and stepfather from the pulpit, she said, “Mrs. Wells, Mr. Wells, you have been extraordinary in your strength, your courage and your grace. And we mourn with you.”
Harris continued: “This is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence, at the hands and feet of people who had been charged with keeping them safe … This act of violence was not in pursuit of public safety . It wasn’t in the public interest, because you have to ask, wasn’t it in the public interest that Tire Nichols would be here with us today? Didn’t he also have a right to be safe?”
Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy and civil rights attorney Ben Crump delivered what the funeral program described as a “Call for Justice.”
“Why couldn’t they see humanity in Tyre?” Crump said of the officers involved. “… We have the God-given right to say, I’m human and I deserve justice! Not just any justice, but equal justice.”
Sharpton also announced that family members of George Floyd, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner, whose deaths in encounters with police have all made headlines in recent years, attended the service.
“I want the family to know that they have come to be with you on this day from all over the country,” Sharpton said.
Several of Nichols’ family members spoke at the service, where his brother described Tire as a “very peaceful … very respectful” young man who “touched many lives.”
“I see the world showing him love and fighting for his justice, but all I want is my little brother back,” one of his sisters said through tears.
“People from all over the world saw the videotape of a man unarmed, unprovoked, being beaten to death by officers of the law,” Sharpton said at a news conference Tuesday.
Nichols, who was 29 years old, worked for FedEx and had a 4-year-old son. He grew up in Sacramento but moved to Memphis just before the pandemic to join his mother and stepfather.
“My son loved me to death and I love him to death,” his mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CBS News, and says that her son had a tattoo of her name on his arm. A self-described “aspiring photographer”, his family said he loved to photograph landscapes and sunsets.
Friends from his youth in California shared memories of him with CBS Sacramento. Nichols was an avid skateboarder, and his friend Jerome Neal described him as “beloved” at his local skate park.
“He just touches anybody that comes around him,” another friend, Austin Robert, told the station. “He’s a great person and that’s how I really want everyone to remember him.”
“It’s honestly pretty devastating to see such a good person go through such unnecessary brutality, such an unnecessary death,” Brian Jang, a friend of Nichols from Memphis, told CBS News.
Nichols was on his way home when he was pulled over overnight on Jan. 7 — allegedly for reckless driving, though the police chief later said no evidence was found to support that. Disturbing bodycam recordings and surveillance camera video released by the city on Friday, showed him being punched, kicked and pepper sprayed.
He died Jan. 10 of what his stepfather, Rodney Wells, said was cardiac arrest and kidney failure. An official cause of death has not been released, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he “succumbed to his injuries.”
Five Memphis police officers was fired and faces charges of second degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Two other officers was exempted from servicesaid the authorities, and three members of the Memphis Fire Department who responded to the scene was fired. Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said two deputies have also been relieved of duty.
“The sad reality is that police brutality will be an ever-present threat to black and brown Americans unless police constantly see that those who use blunt force will go to jail. They need to understand that a badge is not a shield that let them kill someone during a traffic stop,” Sharpton said in a statement after the publication of the police recordings. “And the only way to do that is through convictions and legislation. I thank the Department of Justice for opening a civil rights investigation and urge its lawyers to be swift and transparent. Our entire nation must come together to condemn this grotesque violation of human rights .”