Wave Staff and Wire Reports
LOS ANGELES — Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Memphis man beaten to death by five Black Memphis police officers last month was eulogized Feb. 1 in a funeral service that South Los Angeles activist Najee Ali called “very emotional and very moving.”
Ali traveled to Memphis this week to attend the service that also was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered what Ali said was “one of the best eulogies I ever heard.”
Sharpton invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who died in Memphis in 1968 while trying to settle a strike involving trash truck workers.
He called out the five Black former officers charged in Nichols’ death.
“There’s nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us that fight to open doors, that you walked through those doors and act like the folks we had to fight for to get you through them doors. You didn’t get on the police department by yourself,” Sharpton said.
Referring to King’s 1968 “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, where King said he had reached the peak and seen the Promised Land, Sharpton said the former officers had failed to live up to that legacy.
“He expected you to bring us on to the Promised Land,” Sharpton said.
Nichols’ death became the latest example of a young Black man dying at the hands of police officers.
Although he was beaten Jan. 7, the death didn’t draw national attention until video of the beating was released Jan. 27, sparking demonstrations and protests throughout the country, including locally in Venice, Hollywood and downtown.
The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired Jan. 20 after an administrative investigation found they had violated department policy about the use of force.
The Memphis Police Department released bodycam footage which showed five officers pummeling Nichols for “running” from them after attempting to pull him over for unknown reasons. The initial investigation indicates the officers weren’t forthright in their reasons for pulling him over.
Local law enforcement officials were swift to denounce the Memphis officers’ actions.
“The grotesque actions I watched in the video were incredibly disturbing, cruel and inhumane,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said. “To witness former Memphis police officers engaged in such unjustified and excessive force at the expense of Tyre Nichols’ life angers me as a police officer, as an American.”
“This behavior goes against every principle of the law enforcement profession and is in direct contradiction to the dedication and sacrifice of the vast majority of our members who strive to protect and serve. The violation of trust tarnishes our badge and has a caustic effect on the public’s trust.”
Moore sent a letter of condolence to the Nichols’ family that Ali delivered.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Nichols’ family and also represented George Floyd’s family after Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, praised Memphis officials for acting swiftly to fire the officers involved and charge them with murder. But he compared the video of Nichols’ beating to the infamous 1991 beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers.
“Regrettably, it reminded us of (the) Rodney King video,” Crump said. “Unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn’t survive.”
King’s daughter, Lora Dene King issued a statement decrying the police assault of Nichols as “extremely sickening.”
“We should not have to witness such things in this world over and over with a different name behind the hashtags,” she said. “Watching these types of videos has become very disturbing. It triggers past beatings often in comparison to my father’s brutal 1991 beating with the LAPD. This is something I will never understand. I hope his family find strength the most; in the days to come.”
King also had Ali deliver a letter of condolence to the Nichols family.
Crumb issued a call to action demanding that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.
Vice President Harris addressed most of her remarks to Nichols’ family.
“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,” she said. “And when we look at this situation, this is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of people who had been charged with keeping them safe.”
“The people of our country mourn with you,” she added.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement saying her heart “aches for Tyre’s family and all who loved him.”
“Our country has a problem that we cannot run away from — we must confront it,” Bass said. “All communities deserve police that will always protect them. It is commendable that the police chief and officials in Memphis fired, arrested and filed murder charges against these officers.
“True justice, however, is not a guilty verdict. True justice would be Tyre being alive today. As the people of Los Angeles process and react to this horrific killing, we must move with purpose and peace.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League issued a joint statement Jan. 27 with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, San Jose Police Officers’ Association, and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers blasting the actions of officers in the video.
“The killing of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the five cowardly former Memphis police officers is repugnant and the complete antithesis of how honorable law enforcement professionals conduct themselves every day,” the statement said. “These accused individuals were fired, charged with murder and other crimes, arrested, fingerprinted, photographed and jailed, just like any other suspected criminal.
“Their brutalization of Mr. Nichols was horrific and for his family to have to view the video of Tyre suffering through those evil acts is unfathomable. We pray that they find the strength to deal with this unmitigated loss.”
William Briggs, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, called the beating of Nichols “savage and unconscionable.”
“The behavior of these officers must be condemned,” Briggs said. “Not just by members of the law enforcement community, but by all Americans. They will answer for their actions; their disregard for human life; their excessive use of force; their failure to intervene and render aide; their violation of the public’s trust.”
Freelance reporter Emilie St. John also contributed to this story.