MEMPHIS, Tenn. – On the eve of the funeral for Tyre Nichols, who died days after a brutal beating by Memphis police officers just minutes from his home, his family was sharing remembrances and expressing grief.
Nichols’ older brother, Jamal Dupree, lamented he was not there to save his brother from the attack he suffered at the fists and feet of the five officers, who have been charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.
“I’ve been fighting my whole life and the one fight I needed to be here for, I wasn't here," said Dupree, adding that violence was against his brother's nature.
“My brother was the most peaceful person I've ever met in life,” he said. “If my brother was here today and he had to say something, he'd tell us to do this peacefully.”
The family gathered Tuesday evening with the Rev. Al Sharpton at the historic Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis — where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his final speech the night before he was assassinated — to speak about Nichols and the latest developments in the case. Sharpton, who will eulogize Nichols at the funeral Wednesday morning, said he wanted the family to stand where King stood before they lay Nichols to rest.
“They’re standing on that ground because we will continue in Tyre's name to head up to Martin’s mountaintop. That’s why we wanted to start this right on this sacred ground. This is holy ground. And this family now is ours and they're in the hands of history,” Sharpton said.
Among those expected in attendance Wednesday is Vice President Kamala Harris, who the White House said was invited by Nichols’ mother and stepfather, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells. Harris spoke by phone with the Wells family on Tuesday, expressing her condolences and offering her support. President Joe Biden spoke by phone to Nichols’ family last week.
Harris will be joined by former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a senior adviser to the president for public engagement, and Mitch Landrieu, a White House senior advisor and infrastructure implementation coordinator, who is a former mayor of New Orleans, said Harris’s press secretary, Kirsten Allen.
Five Black officers have been fired and charged in Nichols’ Jan. 7 beating and subsequent death. Video of the beating, which was released publicly last week, shows that many more people failed to help Nichols, who was also Black, beyond the five officers charged in his death.
Two more Memphis police officers have been disciplined and three emergency responders fired in connection with Nichols’ death, officials said Monday. Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, and another officer whose name wasn’t released, have been suspended, police said.
Six of the officers involved were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said after the video's release that the unit has been disbanded.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but due to the severity of the situation it’s not enough,” Damion Carrick said as he participated in a protest Monday evening at Shelby Farms Park. “You got a man dragged out of his car, beaten senseless, to a pulp and nobody doing nothing about it. It’s heartbreaking.”
Nichols’ death was the latest in a string of early accounts by police about their use of force that were later shown to have minimized or omitted violent and sometimes deadly encounters.
Memphis Police Department officers used a stun gun, a baton and their fists as they pummeled Nichols during the nighttime arrest. Video shows Nichols running away from officers toward his house after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving. The video footage released Friday shows the 29-year-old father calling for his mother and struggling with his injuries as he sits helpless on the pavement.
The five officers chatted and milled about for several minutes as Nichols remained on the ground, but other authorities were on the scene. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies also have been suspended without pay while their conduct is investigated.
Nichols' sister, Keyana Dixon, was among more than 100 friends, family and supporters who gathered for a candlelight vigil Monday night at a skate park in Sacramento, where Nichols grew up, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“This was his favorite place to skate,” she said at the vigil. “I just want to thank all of you for your continued support for our family, and making sure his name is never forgotten.”
A childhood friend, Ryan Wilson, said he met Nichols at a skate park when he was 12 and they became fast friends, sharing their dreams for the future. Nichols had some struggles while young, but he focused on making others happy, Wilson said.
“I just feel like all he wanted to do was find his place in this world, and he just wanted to be happy," Wilson said.
Nichols' mother and step father have accepted an invitation to attend Biden’s State of the Union address next week at the Capitol. They will attend with Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to Vincent Evans, a spokesperson for the caucus.
Nichols' funeral will be held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. After Sharpton's delivers the eulogy, Nichols' family attorney Ben Crump will issue a call to action. Others expected to be in attendance include Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd.
The deaths of Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Floyd in Minneapolis, at the hands of police sparked protests across the nation about racial injustice.
Associated Press journalists Gary Fields in Memphis; Darlene Superville in Washington; and Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report. For more coverage of the Tyre Nichols case, go to https://apnews.com/hub/tyre-nichols.