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Memphis to Gather in Grief at Tyre Nichols’s Funeral

By |2023-02-01T07:41:27-05:00February 1st, 2023|Breonna Taylor|

His death after he was beaten by the police inspired anger and sorrow across the country. His family remembers him as a “beautiful soul.”MEMPHIS — For days, the circumstances in which Tyre Nichols died — after he was pummeled and kicked and pepper-sprayed by Memphis police officers — have spurred sorrow and anger across the country.But on Wednesday, as Mr. Nichols’s family and the broader community gather for his funeral, the attention will shift to his life, to celebrating who he was, and to embracing his mother’s belief that all that pain will be channeled into something productive.His mother, RowVaughn Wells, has wondered whether her son was on a divine mission — “sent here on assignment from God” — to be a force to change policing in Memphis and elsewhere.“His assignment was over, and he was sent back home,” Ms. Wells told reporters the day after five officers were charged with second-degree murder and other felonies in the death of her 29-year-old son. “So when this is all over, it’s going to be some good and some positive because my son was a good and positive person.”It could be a moment for healing for Memphis, said the Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, the pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, where the funeral is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.More on the Death of Tyre NicholsPolice Report: An official account written up hours after the beating of Tyre Nichols is the latest instance in which video evidence offered a starkly different account of police violence than what officers had reported.The Officers: Five Memphis police officers were fired and charged with murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’s death. The Police Department later confirmed that two additional officers had been taken off duty.Scorpion Unit: Leaders in Memphis had praised this specialized police group as a key strategy for fighting crime. Now, as the unit is disbanded, they are trying to assess whether it was flawed from the start.Medical Response: The video footage has also turned public attention to the emergency medical workers at the scene, raising questions of whether they should or could have done more to help Mr. Nichols.“It is good for us to be together in the same space,” Pastor Turner said, “and, yes, cry with each other and also find hope that will drive us to hopefully dismantle this culture that normalizes this kind of violence.”In a sign of how Mr. Nichols’s death has reverberated far beyond Memphis, the Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to deliver a eulogy, and Vice President Kamala Harris will be in attendance. Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, and Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, are also expected to attend — an indication that Mr. Nichols has been added to a roster of Black men and women who inspired activism after they were killed by the police.“You thought no one would care,” Mr. Sharpton said at a news conference on Tuesday night, addressing Mr. Nichols’s family. “Well, tomorrow, the vice president of the United States is coming to his funeral. And people are coming from all over the world. And we’re coming because we’re all Tyre now.”He continued: “We’re all going to stand up with this family. They will never ever recover from the loss.”Mr. Sharpton has delivered remarks at the funerals of Mr. Floyd, whose 2020 death after an officer in Minneapolis kept his knee on the prone man’s neck for more than eight minutes sparked national protests; Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer who mistook her gun for her Taser during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis in 2021; Alton Sterling, who was shot by the police in Baton Rouge, La., in 2016; and others dating back decades, including the 1997 death of William J. Whitfield, an unarmed man fatally shot on Christmas Day in Brooklyn.Mr. Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after a traffic stop that turned into a brutal beating at the hands of Memphis police officers who were part of a specialized unit formed to help halt a surge of violence in the city.In response to his death, police officials announced on Saturday that the unit had been disbanded. Jim Strickland, the mayor of Memphis, has also called for an extensive review of the Police Department. Two other police officers who were on the scene have been suspended pending the results of an investigation into their actions, as have two deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. Two medics and a lieutenant from the Memphis Fire Department who responded to the scene have also been fired, officials said.Video from the officers’ body cameras and a stationary surveillance camera that was released last week showed the assault and Mr. Nichols begging for his life. The encounter began as officers approached his vehicle — they claimed he had been driving erratically, although the city’s police chief has said no evidence of that has emerged — with guns drawn and pulled him from his car. The officers shouted often contradictory orders before using pepper spray on Mr. Nichols, who ran off.But officers soon caught up with Mr. Nichols and severely beat him, with one officer delivering a series of blows to Mr. Nichols’s head while two other officers held his hands behind his back.Mr. Nichols called out for his mother during the assault, which took place not far from her home.Before the stop, his mother said, he had been on his way home from Shelby Farms, a sprawling public park just outside Memphis. He went there often to photograph the sunset. His photographs will be shown during the funeral.“We get so zeroed in on how he died, we don’t get a chance to recognize that he lived before that moment,” Pastor Turner said.The funeral, he said, will be an opportunity to focus on that instead.Mr. Nichols had moved to Memphis in 2020 to be closer to his mother, coming from California. He had a 4-year-old son and was working with his stepfather on the second shift at a FedEx facility in Memphis. He kept up a passion for skateboarding he’d had since he was 6, even if his stepfather thought he should have outgrown it.“I had just told him recently, I said, ‘Son, you’ve got to put that skateboard down,’” Rodney Wells, his stepfather, said recently. “You’re too old! You’ve got a full-time job now. You’ve got to come to work now every day.”It didn’t stop him.He had always been a free spirit. When he was a child, his mother offered to buy him Jordans, sneakers many young people coveted. He said no. His mother also took particular pride in his decision to tattoo her name on his arm. “Most kids don’t put their mom’s name,” Ms. Wells recalled. “My son was a beautiful soul.”The plan on Wednesday is to share some of those memories.There will also be music: African drums will be played, and with this being Memphis, so will soul. A choir will sing “Fight On,” and Pastor Turner recited lyrics that had been sung by Sam Cooke and will be performed again on Wednesday:It’s been a longa long time coming, but I knowA change gon’ come.Randy Pennell

Video of Memphis Officers Beating Tyre Nichols Elicits Widespread Horror

By |2023-01-28T13:31:21-05:00January 28th, 2023|Breonna Taylor|

As public officials and others condemned the actions they viewed, initial reactions from protesters around the country were largely peaceful.MEMPHIS — The release of video footage showing Memphis police officers pummeling, kicking and pepper-spraying Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, drew a swift avalanche of reaction from law enforcement officials, lawmakers from both parties, Black Lives Matter activists and many other people across the country.Their message was a largely unified expression of horror and disgust. The footage, which city officials made public on Friday evening, captured how what the police had initially portrayed as a routine traffic stop on Jan. 7 turned violent and led to Mr. Nichols’s death three days later.Yet protesters around the country, at least in the initial hours after the video release, largely heeded days of pleas from Mr. Nichols’s family and others to remain peaceful. Several dozen marched in Memphis on Friday night, spilling onto an interstate highway and blocking a major bridge; another demonstration was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.Protesters assembled on Friday night in Washington, D.C., Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta and in Times Square in Manhattan. Officials said minor acts of vandalism were committed during a protest outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters, which was blocked by police in riot gear.“The video is all the horrific things that were described to us,” said Josh Spickler, the executive director of Just City, a civil rights organization in Memphis, referring to days of warnings from law enforcement officials and Mr. Nichols’s family about the contents of the footage.Protesters stopped traffic in both directions as they spilled onto Interstate 55 in Memphis. Brad J. Vest for The New York TimesA protest in Memphis was one of several across the country that were largely peaceful. Brad J. Vest for The New York TimesCity officials in Memphis decided soon after the incident to make the video public as a step toward transparency. Four separate clips, from police body cameras and a surveillance camera mounted on a utility pole, were shared online, adding up to nearly an hour of footage.On Thursday, prosecutors announced that five Memphis police officers had been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’s death. Almost a week earlier, those same officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — had been fired from the Memphis Police Department after an internal investigation found they had used excessive force and failed to intervene or render aid, as the agency’s policy required them to do.Lawyers for the officers have urged the community to avoid rushing to judgment. Blake Ballin, who represents Mr. Mills, said in a statement that the videos have “produced as many questions as they have answers.”After the video was released, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said that two deputies who had appeared in the footage had been “relieved of duty” pending an investigation after he was concerned by what he saw. Separately, the Memphis Fire Department said that two of its employees were also being investigated for their actions at the scene.Mr. Nichols was stopped on the evening of Jan. 7 as he was headed to the home he shared with his mother and stepfather in the southeastern corner of Memphis. Mr. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard on the video saying, “I’m just trying to go home.” Mr. Nichols fled on foot, and when officers caught up to him, he was kicked, struck by a baton and pepper-sprayed, at one point screaming, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”Protesters near the White House on Friday evening. Kenny Holston/The New York TimesLora Dene King, daughter of Rodney King, and community members in Los Angeles watch the video of the beating of Tyre Nichols. Philip Cheung for The New York TimesThe officers, according to the video, escalated their use of physical force and gave conflicting orders, repeatedly demanding that Mr. Nichols show his hands, even as other officers held his arms behind his back while another punched him. After officers pepper sprayed and beat Mr. Nichols, they left him sitting on the ground unattended and handcuffed, and when medics arrived, they stood by for more than 16 minutes without administering treatment.An independent autopsy commissioned by his family found that Mr. Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to preliminary findings.Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and an expert on law enforcement practices, called the officers’ actions “the definition of excessive force.” Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and lawyer who conducts investigations into the use of force, said the severity of what he saw in the video was alarming. “I’ve never seen an individual deliberately being propped up to be beaten,” he said.As police departments around the country responded, law enforcement officials said actions shown in the video defied what officers are trained to do. “What I saw in that video was not right,” Deputy Chief Gerald Woodyard, the commanding officer for South Los Angeles for the city’s police force. “What’s going on in their minds, I have no idea.”Yet the video reflected something achingly familiar, as the country has grappled repeatedly with high-profile cases of Black men and women having fatal encounters with police, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.“I’m exhausted we constantly have to see this,” said Kori John, a teacher in Brooklyn. “It’s a norm at this point: Black men getting destroyed by the police force, by even Black police officers.”Protesters in Times Square on Friday. Ahmed Gaber for The New York TimesPeople marching in Times Square. Law enforcement officials around the country said actions shown in the video defied what officers are trained to do.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesMr. Nichols’s family has urged lawmakers to pursue legislation requiring officers to intervene when they see colleagues using excessive force; they have also demanded that the Memphis Police Department disband the specialized team patrolling high-crime areas, known as the Scorpion unit, that the officers charged in Mr. Nichols’s death had been part of.In Sacramento, where Mr. Nichols grew up before moving to Memphis, family members planned a candlelight vigil for Monday, and local authorities urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the video filled him with “anger, sorrow and revulsion,” Police Chief Kathy Lester called the actions of the Memphis officers “inhumane and inexcusable,” and Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper said the “horrendous acts displayed by these few officers do not reflect the values of this office or law enforcement as a whole.”In Memphis, for days before the video release, city officials, civic leaders and Mr. Nichols’s family urged people not to allow protests to become destructive. But the relatively quick criminal charges, which Mr. Nichols’s family applauded, may have helped head off conflagrations.Even so, the anger and hurt were still there, leading some demonstrators to mobilize on Friday night and plan more protests in the coming days. Hunter Dempster, an organizer with Decarcerate Memphis, a group pushing for accountability and fairness in the criminal justice system, said he and others were blocking the Interstate 55 bridge leading from Memphis into Arkansas because they were “tired of empty promises.”Protesters in Atlanta gathered Friday after the video was released.Nicole Craine for The New York TimesHunter Dempster, an organizer with Decarcerate Memphis, a group pushing for accountability and fairness in the criminal justice system, said he and others protested because they were “tired of empty promises.”Desiree Rios/The New York Times“At the end of the day,” he said, “what recourse do we have?”Many described watching the video as wrenching. “I can’t believe no one thought ‘we don’t have to keep beating this man,’” Nino Brown, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said at a vigil for Mr. Nichols in Chicago.Others, including Ms. John, the teacher in Brooklyn, had decided they would not watch it, saying that the burden of viewing that kind of trauma outweighed any benefit from watching it.“I don’t want to see it — I can’t see it,” she said. “It’s so heartbreaking. We’ve seen that video so many times before.”Reporting was contributed by

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