Vice President Harris gave an unscheduled, emotional address at the funeral for Tyre Nichols in Memphis on Wednesday, denouncing the actions of the officers who brutally beat him and renewing calls for Congress to pass police reform.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for her to share a few words for us?” Sharpton asked those in attendance.
When she came onstage, Harris, the first Black person to be vice president, told Nichols’s parents that the country has mourned with them after Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died more than three weeks ago. She then turned her attention to the actions of the five now-fired Memphis police officers, all of whom are Black, who beat Nichols and are facing second-degree murder and other charges.
“When we look at this situation, this is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of the people who had been charged with keeping them safe,” Harris said. “And when I think about the courage and the strength of this family, I think it demands we speak truth. With this, I will say that this violent act was not in the pursuit of public safety. It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe. One must ask, ‘Was it not in the interest of keeping the public safe that Tyre Nichols would be with us today?’ Was he also not entitled to the right to be safe?”
Harris added, “So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form: Tyre Nichols should have been safe.”
here's the end of VP Kamala Harris's eulogy for Tyre Nichols pic.twitter.com/h3X7RqByl6— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 1, 2023
In comments that lasted about five minutes, the vice president told those inside the church how mothers around the world “pray to God that when they hold their child, that body and that life will be safe for the rest of his life.” She wondered why Nichols, as in many fatal police incidents involving Black men and women in recent years, was not given that chance.
“We have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today,” Harris said. “They have a grandson who now does not have a father. His brother and sister will lose the love of growing old with their baby brother.”
The vice president also renewed her call to Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which Democrats passed in the House in 2021 to create a federal database for officer misconduct allegations, incentivize states to end “no-knock” warrants and limit transfer of military equipment to police, among other changes. The push for the bill followed the deaths of several Black people at the hands of police, including Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Harris, who noted that she was a co-author of the original bill when she was in the Senate, said there was no more time to waste in passing police reform that has previously fizzled in Congress.
“As vice president of the United States, we demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Joe Biden will sign it,” she said to one of the loudest ovations during her remarks. “And we should not delay and not be denied. It is nonnegotiable.”
Powerful words from @VP Kamala Harris about #TyreNichols, who was violently taken away from his community. If our legislators truly care about keeping the public safe then Congress must work to pass The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act. ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/KxyZKhJqQ0— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) February 1, 2023
Biden and Harris are expected to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House on Thursday to discuss reforms.
She concluded her remarks on Wednesday by reflecting on Luke 1:79, her favorite verse in the Bible, which notes how John the Baptist was prophesied “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“Let our memory of Tyre shine a light on the path toward peace and justice,” she said.
The death of Tyre Nichols
The latest: An official autopsy report shows Tyre Nichols died from “blunt force trauma,” lawyers say. The Nichols’s family is suing the city of Memphis and police officers over the brutal beating. The Justice Department will review the Memphis Police Department’s use-of-force policies and practices.
What has Memphis police footage revealed?: The race of the five officers charged in the Nichols killing has sparked a complex dialogue on institutional racism in policing. Some of the most haunting videos came from SkyCop cameras.
Who was Tyre Nichols?: The 29-year-old father was pepper-sprayed, punched and kicked by Memphis cops after a January traffic stop. He was pronounced dead at a hospital three days after his arrest. At Tyre Nichols’ funeral service, his family said they are focused on getting justice.
What is the Scorpion unit?: After the fallout from the brutal beating, Memphis police shut down the Scorpion unit. Each of the five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty in Nichols’s death.