Tyre Nichols' Memphis funeral: After funeral, renewed calls for police reform legislation
Correction:This story has been updated with accurate spelling of an attendee's name.
The funeral for Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was a father, skateboarder and photographer, is expected to draw thousands of attendees to Memphis Wednesday afternoon, including high-profile government and civil rights leaders.
Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after he was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers, video footage shows.
Follow along for updates from the service held inside the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
Says Nichols' eulogist the Rev. Al Sharpton: 'I’m not a funeral director, I’m an activist'
Speaking after Nichols' funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy, said he and others "intend to be at the trials and arraignments" in Nichols' case.
"We are mountain climbers,” Sharpton said, again invoking Martin Luther King Jr.
Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network civil rights nonprofit, said it was "imperative" for the country to move forward with legislation on police reform.
"‘I’m not a funeral director," he said. "I’m an activist.”
"This is not the end of a funeral," he later continued, "but the beginning of a movement around legislation.”
After funeral, Crump renew calls for legislation to prevent police killings of Black people
"How many videos do we have to show you, America?" Ben Crump, civil rights attorney for Nichols' family, said at a press conference after the funeral.
Video footage can be a "game-changer" in bringing justice for families of Black people killed by police he said, a repeated result of problems in the culture of policing in America.
"It’s so significant to show America that these are not isolated incidents," he said. Further, he later described, "transparency plus accountability equals trust.”
Crump called for Congress to pass a substantive George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that would include "duty to intervene" legislation in memory and honor of Tyre Nichols.
Speaking of potential future civil litigation, Crump said he believes there to be a "pattern and practice" of excessive use of force.
"It is so clear that Tyre Nichols’ not just civil rights, but his human rights were violated," Crump said.
Says attendee Spike Lee: 'I have to look at what’s being done to us'
Filmmaker Spike Lee attended Nichols' funeral and praised the Rev. Al Sharpton's eulogy explaining the significance of Memphis in civil rights history.
"I understand people saying, ‘I can’t take all this Black trauma,’" Lee said, describing response to viewing the video footage of Nichols' brutal beating by police.
"But I think about Mamie Till, when she allowed Jet magazine to show the horrific of her son Emmett," Lee said, a reference to the magazine's photo of Emmett Till's brutalized body in an open casket funeral. "And I understand it’s not for everybody. But me personally, I have to look at what’s being done to us.”'
'We will see Tyre again': Memphis clergy speak of Nichols' impact
The Rev. Earle Fisher, a familiar face in Memphis religion and politics told attendees: "I believe every time we raise our voice for love and justice and power, we will see Tyre again.”
Said the Rev. Rodney Woodley, who presided over a memorial service for Nichols earlier in January: “On that day of Jan. 7, Tyre got drafted unknowingly to serve as a secret agent. He was drafted as a secret agent, for a secret mission that he had no idea he’d been drafted for.”
"Just because it looks like he lost a battle, the war will be won," Woodley said.
Bishop Marvin Thomas, of the First Episcopal District, CME, spoke of poem "I, Too," by Langston Hughes.
"Even suffering has a point to it," said Bishop Brandon Porter of COGIC.
Nichols' assignment isn't over, church crowd says in support of his parents
RowVaughn Wells, Nichols' mother, told the church of her "unimaginable" pain as she dabbed away tears.
"I really truly believe that 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.
Someone in the church shouted out: "It ain’t over momma! He’s gonna change the world.”
Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, told the church this is still the beginning.
"This is a continuous fight that we have to fight for. We have to fight for justice," he said. "We cannot continue to let these people brutalize our kids.”
He criticized police for the "deceit" in the first response to his son's death: "But as they say, what’s done in the dark will always come in the light."
Nichols' parents later praised Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis and Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy for swift action. They also thanked their attorneys and local activists.
Nichols' siblings remember peaceful, fun brother: 'He seen the world way different'
Nichols' siblings remembered a brother who was peaceful and his own person, even at a young age. His death has left them heartbroken.
"He never wanted anything but to watch cartoons and a big bowl of cereal," older sister Keyana Dixon remembered.
And even in the ending moments of his life, she said, "He was still polite. He asked them to ‘please stop’ …and they didn’t. And that’s why my family will never be the same."
Nichols' older brother, Jamal Dupree, grieved the loss of his brother, and the possibilities of their family's future.
“He seen the world way different than I ever seen it before," Dupree said.
Nichols' legacy should be for 'equal justice,' civil rights attorney Ben Crump says
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Nichols' family, implored the church to turn to their neighbor and ask them a question about the officers of the special police unit involved in Nichols' death: "Why couldn’t they see the humanity in Tyre?"
To cheers, Crump announced plans for federal legislation to support a "Tyre Nichols duty to intervene."
“I know we can’t bring Tyre back but in this call to action, we establish his legacy," Crump said, addressing Nichols' parents, siblings, son and other family. "Let’s never let them forget Memphis. Because his legacy will be one of equal justice. It will be the blueprint going forward.”
The swift firing of and charges against the police officers should be the blueprint, no matter the race of the officer involved in alleged police brutality, Crump said.
Rev. Al Sharpton calls for end to qualified immunity
“In the city that they slayed the dreamer, what has happened to the dream?" the Rev. Al Sharpton said, invoking the history of Martin Luther King Jr. who was shot and killed in Memphis in 1968.
Civil rights efforts in Memphis and elsewhere paved the way for more racial equality, Sharpton said. Those fights opened doors for Black people, including the five Black officers who have been fired and charged in Nichols' death, and Memphis' Black police chief.
“You didn’t get on the police department by yourself. Police chief didn't get there by herself," Sharpton said. "People had to march and go to jail and some lost their lives to open the doors for you and how dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing.”
Rodney Wells, Nichols' step-father who was known as his father, was among the first to stand up and applaud Sharpton.
"You don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself," Sharpton said, addressing the Memphis police officers involved in Nichols' fatal beating.
Sharpton continued with calls to end qualified immunity. Civil rights attorney for the Nichols' family Ben Crump stood in the front row of the church and clapped.
“All he wanted to do was get home," Sharpton said of Nichols as his mother, RowVaughn Wells, and older sister Keyana Dixon nodded and cried. "...Home is where you are at peace."
VP Harris calls on Congress to pass George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
Vice President Kamala Harris called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as Tyre Nichols' mother wept and applauded.
“It is non-negotiable," Harris said.
“This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety,” Harris said of Nichols' fatal beating. “Was it not 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.”
Addressing Nichols' parents RowVaughn and Rodney wells, Harris told them, "You have been extraordinary in terms of your strength, your courage and your grace,” as attendants stood and applauded. “And we mourn with you and the people of our country mourn with you.”
Prior to introducing Harris, the Rev. Al Sharpton recognized local, state and federal officials, and family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner, all killed by police.
"They know what it is to sit at a funeral like this," Sharpton said.
VP Harris, Nichols' mother embrace as mother of Jalen Randle, fatally shot by police, sings
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle, who was fatally shot by Houston police in 2022, gave her condolences to RowVaughn Wells before singing.
During a song of praise, Vice President Kamala Harris entered the funeral. She and Wells embraced.
“Yes Lord, amen,” Wells said as the song concluded and ushered in another slideshow of photos of Nichols as attendants were invited to read Nichols' obituary.
Wells pointed out photos in the slideshow to Harris, and both shared a laugh in a bit of levity. Nichols' step-father, Rodney Wells, hasn’t let his arm leave RowVaughn's shoulders since the pair sat down.
Rodney Wells, who has stood steady through many public appearances, began to wipe his eyes.
'Only healed by the grace of God, transparency,' opens officiant the Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner
Shortly after 1 p.m., officiant the Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, began the ceremony describing the rights Nichols was denied, the right "to see the sunset another day" and "to grow old."
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, dabbed a tissue to her eyes as Turner listed more characteristics of her son.
"We have come with heavy hearts that can only be healed by the grace of God, full transparency, accountability and comprehensive legislative reform," Turner said.
He called for an end to police violence to affirmative nods from Wells.
"So today 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."
'We love you Tyre, your spirit is free,' church band sings before Rev. Al Sharpton, Ben Crump enter
A church band sang, "We love you Tyre, your spirit is free” shortly before 1 p.m. as church pews filled to 80% with people standing and recording.
Eulogist the Rev. Al Sharpton and Nichols' family's attorney Ben Crump entered as the 70-person choir sang, "You Are My Strength."
Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy was among early attendees, as were Memphis City Councilmen Martavius Jones and JB Smiley, Jr., Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and County Commissioners Mick Wright, Amber Mills and Charlie Caswell.
Also in attendance are White House Director for the Office of Public Engagement Keisha Lance Bottoms, a former mayor of Atlanta, alongside U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.
Memphis activists, others arrive at the church
Despite icy roads and sub-freezing temperatures, activists from Memphis have started arriving at the church, where the chapel was about 30% full roughly an hour before the scheduled start of services.
Amber Sherman, Hunter Demster, and LJ Abraham — three activists who have been heavily involved in organizing protests along with advocating for the family and widespread police reforms — made their way to the church.
Mourners continue calls for justice, trickle into church
Two mourners at Nichols' funeral traveled from the Detroit metro area with a 65-pound, 10-foot-tall, cedar cross.
“When I saw the video footage on Friday, I had dreams all weekend about the cross here,” said Dan Beazley, who traveled with Tristan Strickland.
Others outside the church plead: "Our Black sons deserve to grow old.”
As the doors opened at 11 a.m., two hours before the service, a flurry of Memphis community members entered the church.
Early attendees include local clergy and Van Turner, Memphis mayoral candidate and Memphis NAACP president, who has been a fixture at press conferences with the Nichols' family. He was joined by others with the Memphis NAACP.
Icy weather delays service start to 1 p.m.
A funeral service for Tyre Nichols, the father, skateboarder and photographer who died after he was brutally beaten by Memphis police, is delayed by several hours due to icy weather.
A second wave of ice and sleet dropped on Memphis Tuesday evening and overnight Wednesday, coating roadways and bringing additional disruptions. An ice storm warning originally scheduled to expire at noon Wednesday has been extended to 6 a.m. Thursday. The weather has delayed travel for expected guests to the services.
Held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, also known as The BLVD, the service is expected to draw thousands.
More:Rev. Al Sharpton: 'We will continue in Tyre's name to head up to Martin's Mountaintop'
More:4 officers indicted in Tyre Nichols death had previous reprimands, suspensions by MPD
The Rev. Al Sharpton will give a eulogy. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who along with attorney Antonio Romanucci, is representing the Nichols family, will deliver a call to action.
Vice President Kamala Harris is also attending the service. She will be joined by other officials, including White House Director for the Office of Public Engagement Keisha Lance Bottoms, a former mayor of Atlanta, and Senior Advisor to the President Mitch Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans.
Family members of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by Louisville officers who knocked down her door while executing a search warrant, are expected to attend. Floyd and Taylor's deaths in 2020 inspired a national movement toward police reform.
During a Tuesday evening address at the historic Mason Temple, Sharpton recognized family members of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by New York Police in 2014, and Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento, California, police in 2018.
On stage with him among local activists was Sonny Webber, the father of Brandon Webber, who was shot and killed in Memphis in 2019 by members of the United States Marshals Service.