Tyre Nichols died three days after being beaten by members of an elite unit of the Memphis Police Department. Photo courtesy of Nichols family attorney Ben Crump/Instagram
Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Funeral mourners gathered in Memphis Wednesday to remember police-beating victim Tyre Nichols as a father, a child of God and a person "gone too soon" because of violence at the hands of police.
Amid remembrances of Nichols' life were calls for Congressional action to help counter similar fatal police engagements in the future.
The service for Nichols, 29, who died Jan. 10 after a beating by police during a traffic stop, began with music from the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church's Celebration Choir, singing the lyrics, "lift me up."
In opening remarks addressing Nichols' parents, the Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols of Freedom's Chapel Christian Church in Memphis said, "Mr. and Ms. Wells, he is your son. Now he is our son and he is always God's son."
Comparing Tyre Nichols to a comet in the sky, he was "in the twinkling of an eye, gone too soon," she said.
It was a sentiment shared by Vice President Kamala Harris, who attended the funeral and lamented, "We have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man ... who should be here today."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, longtime U.S. civil-rights leader and head of the National Action Network, delivered the eulogy, saying Tyre Nichols' death was personal to him, given his past civil-rights work in Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King.
"The reason why, Mr. and Ms. Wells, what happened to Tyre is so personal to me is that five Black men, that wouldn't have had a job in the police department, would not ever be thought of to be in an elite squad, in the city that Dr. King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death," the minister said of the officers in his eulogy.
"There's nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us that fight to open doors, that you walk through those doors and act like the folks we had to fight to get you through them doors," Sharpton said. "You don't stand up to thugs in the street 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."
Attendees were shown a slideshow of images Tyre Nichols had taken as a photographer, with a quote he had made while he was alive, saying, "My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing in my eye and out through my lens."
Relatives of victims of other high-profile police violence also were attendance. Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, attended the funeral at the family's request.
Although Vice President Harris wasn't part of the speaking program of the funeral, she spoke when asked, saying, "We are here on behalf of the people of our country and our president, Joe Biden, and we are here to celebrate the life of Tyre Nichols."
Also speaking to Tyre Nichols' parents, Harris said, "Ms. Wells, Mr. Wells, you have been extraordinary in terms of your strength, your courage, and your grace, and we mourn with you and the people of our country mourn with you."
The vice president said, "Mothers around the world, when their babies are born, pray to God when they hold that child that that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life. Yet we have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man ... who should be here today," Harris continued.
Harris called on Congress to act.
"I'll just close by staying this, I was as a senator ... a co-author of the original George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," Harris said. "And as vice president of the United States, we demand that congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Joe Biden will sign it and we should not delay and we will not be denied, it is non negotiable."
Family members also spoke at the funeral. Nichols' sister Keyana Dixon said, "I see the world showing him love and fighting for his justice, but all I want is my baby brother back."
Dixon said Tyre Nichols' polite nature was evidenced even during the extreme violence he endured.
"Even in his demise, he was still polite," Dixon said. "He asked them to please stop. He was still the polite young man he always was, he asked them to please stop and they didn't."
Nichols' stepfather Rodney Wells said his stepson's death was just the beginning of change to come.
"This has been a journey that's not gonna end here, it's just the beginning," Wells said. "We're looking forward to passing some bills, we are looking forward to getting justice for all the families ... this is a continuous fight that we have to fight for. We have to fight for justice, we cannot continue to let these people brutalize our kids."
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, also said she is hopeful for change in the wake of her son's death.
"Tyre was a beautiful person, and for this to happen to him is just unimaginable," she said. "I promise you the only thing that's keeping me going is that fact that I really, truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God.
"And I guess now his assignment is done and he's been taken home," she said.
"We need to get [the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act] passed ... because if we don't, that blood, the next child that dies, that blood is gonna be on [lawmakers'] hands," she said.
Five former officers have been fired and charged with crimes in Tyre Nichols' death: Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin, Demetrius Haley, and Demond Mills Jr. Two others have been suspended while an investigation continues.
The Memphis Fire Department also has fired three employees for inaction in response to Nichols' beating.
President Joe Biden expressed outrage at the death and spoke with Nichols' family. Biden has called for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the wake of Nichols' death.
Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech Rev. Sharpton said "Let us have a call to action, let us go forward to get justice, let us all be mountain climbers, don't stop till we get to the top."