MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A day before the funeral for Tyre Nichols — the father, skateboarder and photographer who tattooed his mother’s name on his arm — the Rev. Al Sharpton invoked Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered hisfamed “Mountaintop” speech at the historic Mason Temple pulpit the night before he was assassinated.
Sharpton has said he is honored to be eulogizing 29-year-old Nichols, who died Jan. 10, three days after he was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers in an incident captured on video. Nichols’ funeral on Wednesday at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church will draw thousands, including such high-profile attendees as Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We will continue in Tyre’s name to head up to Martin’s Mountaintop,” Sharpton said during a Tuesday evening press conference inspired by that final speech before King was shot and killed on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
“That’s why we wanted to start this right on this sacred ground. This is holy ground,” Sharpton said, alongside Nichols’ parents. “And this family now is ours, and they’re in the hands of history, and they’re in the hands of those that would fight.”
On Martin Luther King Day, which fell almost a week after Nichols died, his family gathered outside of that balcony, now the National Civil Rights Museum, and continued a first weekend of calls for justice.
Protest posters showed a photo of Nichols hospitalized, his face swollen and his nose in an “S” shape. On top of the photo was written, “I am a man,” the protest calling made famous by the striking Memphis sanitation workers King had come to Memphis to support.
“Tyre was a man,” the crowd said that day.
As Sharpton, faith leaders, activists and Nichols’ family spoke Tuesday night, the same protest posters of Nichols in the hospital lined the church stage held by local Memphis activists and enveloped the evening’s speakers.
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Sharpton was joined Tuesday night by Church of God in Christ Bishops Brandon Porter and Talbert Swan II. Nichols’ parents, Rodney and RowVaughn Wells, and his siblings also attended.
“The need for justice has brought us here again,” said Porter, whose father opened the church’s doors for King more than 50 years ago.
All the speakers continued to call for true police reform.
“We’ve got to see some substantive change across this nation so that these types of incidents don’t have us standing here time after time again,” Swan said, “singing from the same song sheet.”
Swan called for more than diversifying a police force, he said, “because we understand that racism is systemic and it is structural. And regardless of the race of the police officer, if you don’t change the structure, it still disenfranchises and brutalizes Black bodies.”
Five officers charged in Nichols’ death are Black.
Amber Sherman, a Memphis activist, spoke with the group’s list of demands, which include specific measures like ending pretextual stops and requiring more public data on police activity, plus dissolving the police department’s special units. Nichols was beaten by officers on a saturation patrol unit known as SCORPION, which has been deactivated and is under investigation in the wake of his death.
“Back to the activists…you guys are the truth, I appreciate you guys,” Nichols’ older brother, Jamal Dupree, said. “…You guys have actually changed my mind about Memphis. Because when I first got here the first time, it was like a dark cloud over this city.”
In attendance also, Sharpton said, were 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. ,
Nichols’ step-father, who he called a father, had a message that was “sweet and short.”
“Keep fighting for justice for our son, and my family. Protect my wife, because she is very fragile right now. We need that for her, trust me. And I need it, too,” Rodney Wells said. “This is going to be short tonight, because we’ve got a long fight ahead of us. We’ve gotta stay strong for it.”
Story Credit: usatoday.com