Fond memories and cries for justice permeated a memorial service Tuesday (Jan. 17) for Tyre D. Nichols, who died Jan. 10, three days after being injured during an encounter with Memphis police officers.
About 70 people gathered at the M. J. Edwards Funeral Home chapel, where Orange Mound meets South Memphis, to hear speakers, including Latoya Yizer, Nichols’ god-sister, speak fondly of Nichols.
She called Nichols a “goofy, happy kid … I was in high school, and he was in elementary school. Sometimes, I’d be running late, and he would be running late,” said Yizer. “But we ended up walking to school together … He was always filled with joy.”
Still, the desire for justice regarding Nichol’s death was prevalent throughout the service.
The comments by Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, captured that emotion.
“When Tyre first moved to Memphis from Sacramento, he called me ‘Pops’ from the time he stepped off that plane. And I loved him like he was my natural son.
“We want justice for Tyre, and justice is murder one for everybody involved – not second-degree, not manslaughter, none of that. We want justice; murder one, and nothing less.”
While the incident is still under investigation, police said Nichols, 29, was injured during the incident with officers around 8:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 7) near Raines and Ross roads in Hickory Hills.
Police said officers were trying to make a traffic stop for reckless driving. According to the department’s Twitter account:
“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the suspect (Nichols) fled the scene on foot. Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to (take) the suspect into custody.”
The report said another confrontation occurred and the suspect eventually was apprehended.
The report continued, “the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath” and an ambulance was called. “The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition … The officers involved will be routinely relieved of duty pending the outcome of this investigation…”
The investigation has been turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
On Wednesday (Jan. 18), Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. Atty. for the Western District of Tennessee, announced his office, in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has opened a civil rights investigation.”
Nichols’ family has hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who called for the release of video footage.
In a joint statement, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and MPD Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, said, “The video will be released publicly after the completion of the internal investigation into the actions of the officers and after the family of Mr. Nichols has had the opportunity to review the video privately.”
Kareem Ali, a local activist and investigator with the national Crump firm, said video of Nichols’ traffic stop would be released to the family on Monday (Jan. 23). After the family views the footage, a press conference will be called.
During Tuesday’s memorial service, Ali said, “On behalf of Ben Crump Law, I want to express our love, support, and fight for this family. Tyre’s death was not in vain … In the city of Memphis, we have a problem with unjust policing. The spirit of Tyre is moving all over the country among activists…”
Ali added, “They jumped out of a car in hoodies, and Tyre ran because he was afraid. What would you think?”
Perry Williams and Nate Spates Jr. recalled how they met Nichols at a Germantown Starbucks.
“For a year-and-a-half, we would meet up at Starbucks several times a week,” said Spates. “When we heard about what happened, we immediately felt that something was not right. Tyre would never run from the police. That’s just not who he was. If he was running, he was running from something. Tyre was not a fighter.”
Angelina Paxton came to Memphis from Sacramento, California, where Nichols was born and reared. She said if Tyre had died in California, there would have been a “couple of thousand people” at his memorial.
“Tyre died in such a dark way for someone who had so much light,” Paxton said. “All I can say is, may God find forgiveness for the officers because I don’t think I can.”
The Rev. Rodney L. Woodley delivered a brief eulogy from Psalms 8, with the theme, “Regarded Value.”
“We invested in a man of great value, and he invested in the lives of those around him,” said Woodley. “That is why you are all here today…God chose not only Tyre, he chose RowVaughn’s (Tyre’s mother) womb to bring forth an angel … Tyre’s spirit is alive, and it is moving. It is the spirit of change.”
Nichols was born on June 5, 1993, in Sacramento. His father, Steven Nichols, is deceased. He was the youngest of four siblings. After high school, he lived briefly in various parts of the country, finally deciding to make his home in Memphis with his mother and stepfather.
Nichols was an avid skateboarder, a lover of photography, and spent many evenings watching a beautiful Tennessee sunset, friends recalled.
He often told friends and family that he was as happy in Memphis as he had ever been.
He was employed at the FedEx hub, where he told new employees he was the “box manager,” according to a co-worker, who shared memories of working with Nichols.
The co-worker’s remarks drew a welcome reprieve of laughter.
Except for a couple of traffic tickets, Nichols had no prior criminal history.