MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tyre Nichols ’ family and friends gathered 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.
As the service began, a group of singers and drummers beating African instruments proceeded to the front of the church where Nichols’ black casket was draped in a large white bouquet of flowers.
“We love you, Tyre,” the performers sang and attendees joined in.
The Mississippi Boulevard Celebration Choir sang the popular gospel worship song, “You Are My Strength,” as Nichols’ family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and family attorney Ben Crump listened with the church full of mourners.
The Rev. 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.”
“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 canceled 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 specialized 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 traveled to Memphis from California for the memorial service.
Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, will deliver the eulogy at the funeral and Crump, a national civil rights attorney who represents the Nichols family, will deliver a call to action. The start of the service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church was delayed for hours because of icy weather and travel hazards. The funeral program included some scenic photos taken by Nichols.
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 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech the night before he was assassinated nearly 55 years ago.
Sharpton said the family intends to have a “dignified funeral service, not a marathon.”
“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.”
Those expected to be in attendance include Vice President Kamala Harris; Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor; and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd.
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 Jan. 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 minimized or omitted mention of violent encounters.