Who Was Tyre Nichols? Get to Know the Young Man Brutally Beaten By Memphis Police by Ann Marie Patitucci
Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old Black man, a young father, on his way home from taking photos of the sunset in a beloved local park in Memphis, Tenn., when he was pulled over by police. Mr. Nichols was brutally attacked by five Memphis police officers, just around the corner from his home, where he lived with his mother and stepfather. He succumbed to his injuries in the hospital three days later. The five officers have been fired and are charged with second-degree murder and other charges.
Today I watched the video that was released by Memphis Police. Before watching the video, I had heard that Tyre called out for his mother, but nothing prepared me to hear his cries. As he was being brutally beaten by police officers, this grown man cried out for his mom. You can hear the panic in his voice, the fear. "Mom" was likely the last word he spoke on this earth.
I can’t stop thinking about his mom, RowVaughn Wells. She spoke at a press conference on Friday, January 27, 2023: “For a mother to know their child was calling them in need and I wasn’t there for him; do you know how I feel right now because I wasn’t there for my son?” I don’t think anyone can know how she feels; her loss and grief and anguish are beyond our comprehension, bigger than our imaginations.
On Friday, before the release of the bodycam footage, Memphis’ police chief warned the public that the video would depict “acts that defy humanity.” Having watched the footage myself, I think that is a fair description. It is worth noting that several of the news sources I reviewed provide a warning before the video begins, some variation of "This video contains disturbing images and language."
What will it take for us to end police brutality in our country? How many more young men (and women) need to die? No, I do not believe that those five Memphis officers represent the whole of law enforcement, but I do believe that those who engage in police brutality must be held accountable; this includes both the officers who participate in the violence as well as those who witness it and do nothing to stop it. Justice must be served, for the men who cry out for their mothers and for the moms who will forever ask, “Do you know how I feel right now because I wasn’t there for my son?”
I wanted to learn more about RowVaughn Wells’ son, about who Tyre Nichols was before the world learned his name. It has never sat well with me that when someone’s child is murdered, most of us know them only "in death." I think we should know them in life, too. Tyre Nichols is not a number, a statistic or a news story.
Tyre Nichols was:
A father, a brother, a son
29 years old
An aspiring photographer
A 4-year-old child
A job with his stepdad
A tattoo of his mom’s name on his arm
Other people’s stories
A community member
A human being
“A beautiful soul ... a good boy.”
One of my favorite poets is Leslé Honoré. She writes beautifully, and powerfully, about issues of social (in)justice. Here is an excerpt of her poem #TyreNichols.
"When #TyreNichols cried out
To his mother
In their home
100 feet away
Did your mothers cry out too
As you beat him
Did your grandmothers cry out too
As Tyre bled out
Did your great grandmothers cry out too
As you Pepper Sprayed
Did your great great grandmothers
Curse their own wombs
Did your ancestors weep
That this is what became
Of their legacy"
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