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 Nichols
- Police 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:
Randy Pennell contributed reporting.