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Family and civil rights leaders honored Tyre Nichols at a public funeral in Memphis

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Memphis yesterday, his family and national figures honored Tyre Nichols. He died three days after Memphis police beat him on the street. Katie Riordan of our member station WKNO reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) You are my strength.

KATIE RIORDAN, BYLINE: Faith leaders, mourners and prominent civil rights activists filed into pews at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Wednesday afternoon, their collective presence seeking to comfort the grieving family of Tyre Nichols.

KEYANA DIXON: On the night of January 7, my brother was robbed of his life, his passions and his talents, but not his light.

RIORDAN: That light, his sister Keyana Dixon and other loved ones say, followed him throughout his life, from an easygoing teenager who developed a passion for skateboarding to a 29-year-old adult and father known for his independent spirit and infectious grin. Here's Nichols' brother, Jamal Dupree.

JAMAL DUPREE: My brother really touched a lot of lives. He was a very solid individual. He was very peaceful. He was very respectful.

RIORDAN: A life cut unimaginably short, his mother RowVaughn Wells said.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: The only thing that's keeping me going is the fact that I really, truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God (crying).

RIORDAN: An assignment seen by many to catalyze meaningful police reform.

BEN CRUMP: His legacy will be one of equal justice.

RIORDAN: Nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump said that Nichols' death has created a new precedent for taking action against law enforcement misconduct. In less than three weeks, local authorities fired and charged five officers with second-degree murder.

CRUMP: It will be the blueprint going forward.

RIORDAN: The Reverend Al Sharpton delivered Nichols' eulogy. He, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, who sat next to Nichols' mother, called on lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, aimed at increasing police accountability.

AL SHARPTON: Some of us are going to fight until we make this legislation happen. I don't know when. I don't know how. But we won't stop until we hold you accountable and change this system.

(CHEERING)

RIORDAN: Sharpton called himself a mountain climber, a reference to the speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the night before he was assassinated in Memphis.

For NPR News, I'm Katie Riordan in Memphis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Riordan