Tyre Nichols’ mother said “blood is going to be on the hands” of congressmen and women if they fail to pass a bill that would limit immunity for US police officers.
Vice President Kamala Harris and celebrated civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act at Mr Nichols’ funeral in Memphis on Thursday.
RowVaughn Wells, the mother of the 29-year-old who died three days after being beaten by police, said: “We need to get that bill passed. The next child that dies, the blood is going to be on their hands.”
She paid tribute to her son, saying: “Tyre was a beautiful person and for this to happen to him is unimaginable.
“The only thing that’s keeping me going is thinking my son was sent here on assignment from God. I guess now his assignment is done and he’s been taken home.”
Mr Nichols’ siblings also paid tribute to their brother. His sister said: “He was robbed of his life, his passions and his talents but not his light.”
She said when she heard the news: “I lost my faith, I cried, I screamed at God asking how he could let this happen.
“My cries turned to anger and my anger turned to deep sorrow when those monsters murdered my baby brother. They left me completely heartbroken.
“My family will never be the same and I will always love my baby brother forever.”
After being invited to the pulpit by Rev Sharpton, Ms Harris said: “Let our memory of Tyre shine a light on the path towards peace and justice.”
Ms Harris praised the “courage and strength” of Tyre Nichols’ family.
“We mourn with you and the people of this country mourn with you.
“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.
“Yet we have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today.
“They have a grandson who now does not have a father. His brothers and sisters will lose the love of growing old with their baby brother.
“When we look at this situation, this is a family who 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,” she said.
“Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?”
Rev Sharpton criticised the police officers who beat Mr Nichols.
Recalling the death of Martin Luther King in Memphis 55 years ago when he was campaigning for the rights of black workers, he asked: “In the city that they slayed the dreamer, what has happened to the dream?
“Five black men who wouldn’t have had a job in the police department… in the city that Dr King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death.
“There’s nothing more insulting and offensive. You didn’t get on a police department by yourself. People had to march and go to jail and some lost their lives to open the doors for you.
“How dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing.”
Read more: Punched, kicked and Tasered – Timeline of violent arrest of Tyre Nichols
The families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police officers in 2020 – as well as Oscar-winning director Spike Lee – were among hundreds of mourners in the church.
The funeral took place in Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis with the church’s celebration choir singing a chorus of “we love you Tyre” as mourners entered the church.
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Photographs taken by Mr Nichols, as well as images of him as a child and doing his beloved hobby of skateboarding were shown to mourners along with a quote attributed to the 29-year-old: “My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens.”
Mr Nichols’ black coffin was draped with a white bouquet of flowers and a painting of Martin Luther King and other prominent figures and slogans was placed beside it.
The deadly assault draws painful parallels for Americans who are no strangers to videos of police violence
‘I’m not going to stop’ fighting for justice, says Tyre Nichols’ mother
Politics of policing could stop change
Tyre Nichols wasn’t alone.
At his funeral, they read out a roll call of lives lost to police violence.
Relatives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others came to meet the family of its latest victim and mourn a loss that they know.
Inside the church, it was the past shaking hands with the present and it grasped for change in future.
Tyre’s mother, RowVaughn, spoke with a voice weakened by the weeks of torment – and yet, the words of a grieving mum spoke strongest.
She talked politics and the so-called George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. In this Memphis church, she was preaching to the converted.
No one here doubts the need for change and a congregation will have felt its momentum in the wake of Tyre’s death.
But amidst the hope, where lies expectation? In reality, it probably rests on the same shelf as the George Floyd bill aimed at reform.
The legislation was introduced in 2021, following the police killing of Mr Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, and is designed to restrict misconduct, racism and the use of excessive force by police.
So far so straightforward you might think, given the victim history. But the bill hit the political buffers in the Senate after Republicans opposed it, arguing that it was flawed and would weaken an officer’s ability to do a difficult job.
Republican reluctance was reinforced by the lobbying power of police unions, which have long enjoyed a strong influence in Congress.
As much as the death of Tyre Nichols screams for change, it remains choked by the politics of policing.
Mr Nichols was aggressively punched, kicked and hit with a baton by several Memphis police officers after he was pulled over in a traffic stop on 7 January.
Five police officers have so far been charged with second-degree murder and fired while two other officers were suspended from duty.
Memphis Fire Department also fired three staff members after an investigation found Mr Nichols was left without medical attention for almost 15 minutes after the assault.
Protests have taken place in several US cities after the footage of the attack was released.