Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols outside Queens Borough Hall Monday, Jan. 30 after Nichols’ death at the hands of police officers in Memphis, Tenn., made national headlines for the brutality in which the officers beat him.
Almost immediately after news broke about Nichols’ death, the Memphis police officers who beat him to death were fired and charged with murder. The police department released the body cam footage of the fatal beating on Jan. 27, but many people, including some at the vigil, have refused to watch it due to its extremely graphic nature.
“I held my son a little tighter trying to prepare myself to watch that video,” Richards said. “It weighed heavily Thursday, going into Friday. Tyre Nichols was 29 years old, a father of a 4-year-old, photographer, FedEx worker and a son. He didn’t deserve that. Sixty-six minutes of hell. It doesn’t matter why he was stopped; he didn’t deserve to die. His family didn’t deserve that. It doesn’t matter what color an officer is. If you brutalize someone, you must be held accountable.”
Richards recalled his first stop-and-frisk encounter when he was 13 years old. According to Richards, one of the officers who stopped him pointed a gun at him because they said he fit the description of a robber. He said he often thinks about that encounter, especially since he often passes by where it occurred on Merrick Boulevard.
“We’re not here to indict an entire department,” Richards said. “We’re here to indict a system that says Black lives don’t matter. You can’t look at that video and not tell me, when he’s being beaten with a baton and pepper sprayed. The [officers] lied to his mother. It took 20 minutes for an ambulance to show up.”
Richards called upon Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a way of taking action in order to prevent something like this from happening again. The proposed act would increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct; restrict the use of certain policing practices; enhance transparency and data collection; and establish better practices and training requirements. He also called upon governors across the nation to put an end to qualified immunity for officers.
“I entered public service to try and make a little bit of a difference,” Councilman James Gennaro said. “Everyone here is trying to make a little bit of a difference by being here, holding on to one another, recognizing the work that still needs to be done, by joining together in prayers for the Nichols family and all of the Tyre Nichols we don’t know about.”
Among those who spoke at the vigil in addition to Richards were local officials, community leaders and members of the community. Leaders of faith in attendance led those at the vigil in prayer for Nichols’ family during such a difficult time.
“This is another shameful moment in America for America,” Queens Civic Congress Executive Vice President Ashook Ramsaran said. “Another shameful moment for all of us. When will this stop? We keep on saying enough is enough but it still continues.”
“As the mother of a son, seeing the video and hearing [Nichols] cry for his mother as she was only a few feet away, that broke my heart,” one community member said. “You always worry every day what’s going to happen to your child. We grieve as mothers that understand every day when we go out every day, we have to worry. To see that brutality for no reason, it breaks my heart because he did not deserve it.”
Councilman Shekar Krishnan talked about how the death of Nichols weighed on the community’s collective conscience. He brought up the fact that many people who knew Nichols have since come out to talk about what a caring person he was.
“This brutal murder of Tyre Nichols illustrates how we come together over and over again,” Krishnan said. Because the murder of Black brothers and sisters is something we must address. If we are to say that Black lives matter, if we are to mean it, then it begins with the hard and painful work of recognizing how many black lives we have lost to police violence and brutality. The officers responsible for this horrific senseless murder must be held fully accountable under law. It pains me and all of us here the countless times we’ve had to come together as New Yorkers and across our country to reckon with such a system and the Black lives lost to its violence.”