A vigil honoring Tyre Nichols was held on Jan. 7 in Memphis that marked one year since the 29 year old was beaten by police and died three days later. Photos: Zakiyyah Muhammad

by Zakiyyah Muhammad


MEMPHIS—Candles, framed photos of Tyre Nichols, and “Justice for Tyre” signs surround the exact spot where the young, Black man was brutally beaten by Memphis police. One year later, a vigil honoring Tyre Nichols was held on Jan. 7 at 6727 Castlegate Lane in the city. And, one year later his family and friends are still demanding justice.

“This is the first year without my son,” Rowvaughn Wells, Tyre’s mother, tearfully reflected, addressing a humble crowd of friends, family and supporters.

Man holds candle and photo of Tyre Nichols during vigil.

“I didn’t get a phone call. I didn’t get a text message. I didn’t get a Merry Christmas. I didn’t get none of that from my baby this year. And that’s the most hurtful thing because he used to be trying to be the first one to call.”

On January 7, 2023, Tyre Nichols, 29, was driving home from his job as a box manager at a local FedEx hub on a Saturday evening when he was pulled over by police. In the police body cam footage and video released last year, Tyre is seen being pursued and pulled over by six Memphis police officers—five Black and one White—for what they claimed was a traffic violation.

The young man pulls over, complies with police orders but is eventually dragged, pepper sprayed and struck several times by a mob of police officers. Later in the video, Tyre is seen with bruises across his head, blood streaming across his face, and his body goes limp.

Tyre Nichols was pronounced dead January 10, 2023. An autopsy report concluded he suffered internal bleeding and tearing in his brain, neck injuries and bruises and cuts throughout his body. Desmond Mills, Jr., Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Demetrius Haley are the five Black officers currently facing federal and state charges and indictments in the case.

They face second-degree murder, aggravated assault and other charges. Four of the five are pleading not guilty. Mr. Mills is pleading guilty to federal charges. A trial for the federal cases are scheduled for May 2024 while the state cases are scheduled for August.

“He was the sweetest. That child gave you the clothes off of his back. If he felt you needed it more than he did, he was just a quiet, gentle person. And that’s why, if you knew Ty’, if you really knew Ty’, you would know why it hurt so bad. It hurts so bad,” Ms. Wells told the crowd gathered at the vigil to honor and remember her son.

Representatives from the Benjamin Crump legal team, Decarcerate Memphis and several community members and activists were in attendance. Dr. Andre E. Johnson and Tennessee Representative Justin J. Pearson were among those who spoke. Dr. Johnson is a professor of communications at the University of Memphis and also serves as senior pastor at the Gift of Life Ministries Church.

“This family is not by themselves. They matter. That’s why we’re here. We matter. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re here a year later. We’re not going anywhere. So, the prayer tonight for us as we continue to stand and to be whatever God has created us to be is to give us the strength to keep on keeping on.

Family members, friends and supporters attended a vigil to remember the life of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

Give us the strength to stand. Give us the strength, give us the right words to say in the right way to say them, the right phrases to use, the right stories to tell. Give us the right things to do. Help us to be the people that you called us to be. Because in the final analysis, we are on the right side of history, because we’re still standing,” Dr. Johnson continued.

“In this city, state, and in this country, police violence and police brutality has been, and remains, a tool of White supremacist oppression and anti-Blackness that has broken and shattered our community for centuries. Tyre should be here. There is nothing that our city [and] the Memphis Police Department can say to change that reality. Mama Wells and Daddy Wells shouldn’t be mourning for the loss of life of the 29-year-old beautiful, Black son,” State Rep. Pearson told the crowd.

Mr. Pearson gained national attention last year after he and two other Tennessee representatives, Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson, were temporarily expelled from their legislative seats after participating in a gun control protest on the statehouse floor.

“Today, January 7th, is my birthday. Today, I turn 29. Tyre and I are the same age. [I am the] same age that Tyre was when he was here, trying to get home,” Rep. Pearson added.

Two days after the vigil on January 9, two items were addressed at the Memphis City Council meeting: a vote for a $40,000 raise for the mayor and vote to confirm Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis once again.

Much attention was focused on the latter. The non-binding city council committee voted “no” in the reappointment of Chief Davis. However, the final vote on the city’s first Black female police chief will be held in an upcoming full city council in the coming weeks. The new mayor, Paul Young, who took office Jan. 1, was seeking the reappointment of Chief Davis. However, it was under her reign that the Tyre Nichols incident took place.

“If we remember [Tyre], if we can continue to hold on to our flame of hope, if we can continue to fight with all we’ve got, we wake up to a different city one of these days. But it’ll be because we fought for it. It’ll be because we marched for it. It’ll be because we passed ordinances for it. It’ll be because we elected new leaders for it,” Mr. Pearson said.

Tyre’s father, Rodney Wells ended the vigil with words of gratitude, thanking those who have been instrumental in assisting them during these difficult times.

“We love what the activists have done for our families. We love what Mr. Kareem Ali has done for our families. We’ve always loved the support that Memphis gives us. It’s always been something true to our hearts,” he said.