White House - Vice President Kamala Harris paid her respects Wednesday at the funeral of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who died last month after a brutal beating by Memphis police officers, and demanded that Congress pass stalled legislation aimed at holding police accountable after a high-profile police killing in 2020 sparked protests in the U.S. and around the world.
"As vice president of the United States, we demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act - Joe Biden will sign it," Harris said, referring to President Biden while speaking at Nichols' funeral in Memphis, Tennessee. "And we should not delay, and we will not be denied. It is non-negotiable."
Embed share Family, Community, Leaders Mourn Tyre Nichols Embed share The code has been copied to your clipboard. width px height pxThe URL has been copied to your clipboard
No media source currently available
On Wednesday, the family of Nichols, 29, remembered him as a loving father, keen photographer and an eager skateboarder - the kind of guy, his brother said, who "never lifted a finger to nobody."
This undated photo provided by Ryan Wilson shows Tyre Nichols, who had a passion for photography and was described by friends as joyful and lovable. Nichols was fatally beaten by police during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 7, 2023.
But after his brutal beating on January 7 by five Black police officers, captured on video, America remembers him differently: as another young Black man felled by what some see as an epidemic of violent racism in American policing. All five officers involved in the beating of Nichols, who died on January 10, have been charged with murder.
Memphis Police Dismiss Sixth Officer Following Deadly Beating
Black Americans are 12% of the population but accounted for 26% of victims killed by police in 2022, according to monitoring group Mapping Police Violence. And statistics show that Black people are three times more likely to die during police encounters than their white counterparts.
Harris said Nichols' death was counterproductive.
'This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety," she said. "It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe because one must ask, was not it in the interest of keeping the public safe that Tyre Nichols would be with us here today?'
But activists want more than words. They want legal change, and for police officers to be held legally accountable through a federal law, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which did not pass when it was proposed in 2021.
"It has to be federal law," longtime civil rights activist the Reverend Al Sharpton said ahead of Nichols' funeral. "Let me tell you, until police know they have skin in the game, which is why you heard them say about the George Floyd bill, you heard the sister say about the legislation here, you must get rid of qualified immunity. Where police know that they can lose their house, their car and everything else."
Key US Lawmaker Calls for Reassessment of Police Hiring
But some activists, like Leslie Mac, communications director for the Frontline, an advocacy group, want the government to send resources elsewhere. She spoke to VOA via Zoom.
"President Biden just last week was talking about needing to fund the police, and I would push back and just let him know that taking funds away from violent enterprises and putting them into the hands of services that actually meet the needs of communities is not just smart, from a federal level, but it's a smart play for us as human beings in this society," Mac said.
Memphis Police Disband Unit Involved in Nichols Beating
VOA asked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre what the administration is doing to combat perceptions that systemic racism is a problem in America.
"The president has made it a priority in his administration to make sure that it looks like America, to make sure that we see the diversity in this administration and throughout different committees," she said. "And you see that over and over again, when you look at the different agencies, when you look to the White House. And this is ... historically the most diverse administration in history. And that matters."
The Congressional Black Caucus has invited Nichols' parents to attend Biden's State of the Union address next week, where he is expected to address a range of topics, including police reform.
Last year, during that address before a joint session of Congress, Biden said, "The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities."