At Tyre Nichols’ funeral, VP Harris calls for national police reform
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Congress must act to pass national police reform, Vice President Kamala Harris told mourners at the Wednesday funeral of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who died after being beaten bloody by Memphis police officers last month.
Harris’ trip to the Southern city comes five days after Memphis officials released nearly one hour of videos showing officers punching and kicking Nichols after a traffic stop. Nichols died at a local hospital three days later.
Five officers shown in the videos — Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills Jr., Demetrius Haley and Emmitt Martin III, all of whom are Black— have been fired from the Memphis Police Department and charged with second-degree murder. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
At the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Harris spoke on stage at the request of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“We are here to celebrate the life of Tyre Nichols,” Harris said. Harris praised the “extraordinary” strength, courage and grace of Nichols’ mother and stepfather, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells.
“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,” she said. “Yet, we have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today.”
The beating of Nichols “was not in pursuit of public safety,” Harris said.
The vice president called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill in the wake of Floyd’s murder in 2020. As a senator, Harris co-sponsored the bill with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Negotiations between Democratic and Republican senators collapsed over a range of issues, including qualified immunity, a legal principle that generally shields police from personal liability.
“As vice president of the United States, we demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — Joe Biden will sign it,” Harris said. “And, we should not delay, and we will not be denied. It is nonnegotiable.”
Harris sat next to Nichols’ mother and stepfather during the funeral service.
When most of the mourners were seated, African drummers shuffled down the aisle, leading a procession that included Sharpton, Nichols’ mother and civil rights attorney Ben Crump. As the service began, images of Nichols skateboarding and taking selfies flashed on giant TV screens hanging behind the stage.
Seated in the crowd were family members of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and other Americans killed by police.
The Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, the church’s pastor, said he hoped that Nichols’ death would galvanize the movement for racial justice.
Turner said he prayed that Nichols’ killing would ensure the Black Lives Matter hashtag gets “canceled” and is no longer necessary.