By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent
On the cold Monday night of Jan. 30, hundreds of Sacramentans celebrated the life of Tyre Nichols, sharing memories and stories at his favorite place to skate, the Regency Community Park in North Natomas.
“Good evening, everyone. I’m Tyre’s oldest sister and I thank all of you for coming here to show your love for my little brother,” said Keyana Dixon in her opening remarks. “This was his favorite place to skate and he fell a lot of times here, but he loved this park. And so I just want to thank all of you for your continued support for our family and just making sure his name is never forgotten.”
Jamal Dupree, an older brother of Nichols, also addressed the crowd: “Every day I get a message, I get a text or something about something that my brother did or something that he liked. So I really appreciate that. I constantly share with my family, my mom, everybody. So again, his friends. I really appreciate you guys, my family appreciates you guys and all the city officials: mayor, council and everybody that’s here [to] support my brother.”
Many Sacramento leaders came out to honor Tyre’s life: Mayor Darrell Steinberg, school board President Chinua Rhodes, activist Berry Accius, along with councilmembers Katie Valenzuela, Karina Talamantes, Lisa Kaplan and Caitlin Maple were in attendance.
Dr. Tecoy Porter led the crowd in prayer and local activist Stevante Clark – who was mid-flight en route to Memphis to attend Nichols’ funeral – phoned in to speak to the crowd: “I’m on my way right now,” Clark said, “on the plane to Memphis, Tennessee, to unfortunately welcome another family into the club no one wants to be in, but also offer emotional and financial support to these families. I’m going to Memphis, Tennessee, right now and we’re calling for accountability on not just some levels, but all levels.”
As tensions mount and protests erupt nationwide over the death of Tyre Nichols, the tone at his remembrance was positive. For more than an hour friends and relatives shared stories of their experiences with Nichols and the impact he made on them.
“I grew up in this neighborhood and Tyre was somebody I looked up to when I was younger,” said a man who identified himself as a neighbor of Nichols. “I was in junior high school when he was in high school. I’d been practicing for hours, trying to work on all of my skateboard tricks and Tyre would help me work on those moves. And he took time on his day, took time away from his friends to teach me how to do a kickflip.
“I remember the first kickflip I landed. Tyre was actually here and he saw that. Tyre was a beautiful person. He was somebody I looked up to.”
The neighbor continued: “I want people to remember Tyre is somebody who made others happy and put a smile on people’s faces. He was a loved family member. He was a great father. And for a young black kid growing up homeless, who wanted just to learn how to skate, he was somebody to look up to and somebody who opened his arms up to me and let me be crew for a little while.”
Brian Wilson, one of Tyre’s lifelong friends, recalled, “We had so many nights of dreaming and talking about things we wanted to do with our lives. All he wanted to do was find his place in this world. He just wanted to be happy. There were times where he was going through some difficult things and he figured even if he couldn’t be happy, he could try and make everyone else feel what he probably couldn’t.”
It was a description shared by all who knew him: Tyre Nichols loved to make others laugh and feel joy. Many said that is his true legacy. “It’s really inspiring to see how many people he impacted here today,” Nichols’ nephew Murray told the crowd. “You really do want to change the world and you do change that. Well, you know, his name will never be forgotten and this is a prime example of it. I’m just happy that everyone’s here. I’m glad that we can all come together as a community, as friends and family and all of that here and all the love that he’s given us.”
It was an evening of calm amidst a sea of outrage. Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after being beaten by members of the SCORPION unit of the Memphis Police Department following a traffic stop. Five Black officers stopped Nichols for allegedly driving recklessly and ultimately beat Nichols to death, captured in a shockingly graphic series of publicly released videos. The officers were fired and later charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct and official oppression. At the time of this writing a sixth officer who was on the scene of the traffic stop but not the beating has been suspended. Three more emergency personnel have been fired for failing to provide an adequate patient assessment of Nichols after they were called to provide medical aid after the beating.
The violently horrific video of Nichols’ death has sparked protests nationwide against police brutality, with many comparing the footage to the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991. President Joe Biden issued a statement before the release of the videos: “My heart goes out to Tyre Nichols’ family and to Americans in Memphis and across the country who are grieving this tremendously painful loss. The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged. Those who seek justice should not resort to violence or destruction. Violence is never acceptable; it is illegal and destructive. I join Mr. Nichols’ family in calling for peaceful protest.”
At a press conference earlier in the week at Sacramento’s City Hall, Nichols’ family gathered with the mayor and local leaders to urge calm and peaceful protests. What remains to be seen is what, if any, reform will come on a national level to address police violence against the Black community.