Three weeks after his death at the hands of Memphis police, Tyre Nichols is finally being laid to rest. On Wednesday, friends and family gathered to celebrate Nichols’ life at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Several lawmakers and civil rights advocates, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and Vice President Kamala Harris, attended the ceremony and expressed their condolences.
“On the night of January 7, my baby brother was robbed of his passion, his talents, his life, but not his light,” said Nichols’ older sister, Keyana Dixon, through her tears. “All I want is my baby brother back. And even in his demise, he was still polite. He asked the officers to please stop. He was still the polite young man he always was. My family will never be the same.”
Following the release of body-camera footage from the brutal beating by police, much of the world knows Tyre Nichols, a Black man, for his death. But today’s service was dedicated to remembering how Nichols—an avid skateboarder, loving son, and father to a 4-year-old boy—lived.
“He set his own path. He made his own light,” said Nichols’ older brother, Jamal Dupree, who said he originally didn’t plan on speaking. “He was very peaceful and very respectful. I spent a lot of time away from my brother, and I wish that I hadn’t because I want to know the person everyone else knew. And now five officers made it so I’ll never be able to. But I’ll never forget my brother. I’ll never forget my Gemini twin.”
A Sacramento native, Nichols traveled to Memphis to visit his family in 2020 but, according to his mother, RowVaughn Wells, remained in the city when the pandemic hit. He eventually got a job at FedEx and settled down in the area. Wells has spoken openly since his death of an intensely close bond she shared with her son, who she said had a tattoo of her name on his arm.
“Most kids don’t put their mom’s name, but he did,” Wells said at a press conference on January 28.
A photo montage during the ceremony showed Tyre throughout his life, including as a grinning toddler and as a gangly teenage skateboarder. His own photographs were included, including artsy snapshots of railroad tracks and sunsets. To those who knew him, he was a “creative soul” filled with promise.
All of that was stripped away on January 7, when Nichols was restrained and beaten for three minutes by officers from the Memphis Police Department who said they stopped Nichols for suspected reckless driving. According to his mother, Nichols had been driving home from a nearby park where he was photographing the sunset when police stopped him. He died three days later. Before he left home that day, Wells said Nichols had asked how she was preparing the chicken for dinner that night.
“I said I was going to sesame seed it,” she said. “He loved it.”
The police department has since fired the five officers shown beating Nichols, and all five have been charged with second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping. Two others have been suspended from the force. The officers’ division, known as the Scorpion unit, has now been disbanded. A fire department lieutenant and two emergency medical workers were also fired.
“This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety,” Harris said at the funeral. “Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe? Tyre Nichols should’ve been safe.” The vice president demanded that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. “We should not be delayed, we will not be denied,” she said. “This is non-negotiable.”