Lawmakers give standing ovation to Tyre Nichols’s parents at State of the Union

Members of Congress gave a standing ovation to the parents of Tyre Nichols during the State of the Union address in one of the most bipartisan and dramatic moments of the night.

RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’s mother, and her husband, Rodney Wells, Nichols’s stepfather, were present for the address a week after the funeral for the 29-year-old Nichols, who died after being brutally beaten by Memphis police officers during a traffic stop.

As President Biden spoke her son’s name, RowVaughn Wells applauded him and could be seen telling him, “Thank you.”

“Here’s what Tyre’s mom shared with me when I asked her how she finds the courage to carry on and speak out,” Biden said Tuesday after introducing the couple. “With faith in God, she said her son ‘was a beautiful soul and something good will come from this.’”

Biden made a point about how the parents of Black children must address the issue of how they are treated by police. Nichols was Black, as are the five police officers who face criminal charges for their beating of him.

“Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter will come home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car,” said Biden, who made a case for police reform during the address.

“Most of us in here have never had to have the talk with our children that so many Black and Brown families have had with their children: If a police officer pulls you over, turn your interior lights on right away. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel,” he said.

Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after police beat him. Harrowing video footage was released to the public on Jan. 27, leading to new calls for police reform.

Police reform was top of mind for members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), who met with the president last week to discuss passing reform. Members also brought families of those who were impacted by police violence.

Biden said officers are asked to be counselors, social workers and psychologists as they respond to drug overdoses, mental health crises and other situations.

Adding “more resources to reduce violent crime and gun crime, more community intervention programs, more investments in housing, education and job training” will prevent violence from breaking out, he said.

And when there is police violence, Biden said, there needs to be accountability.

“I know most cops are good, honorable, decent people,” said Biden. “They risk their lives every time they put that shield on. But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often.”

CBC members and Democrats in both chambers have called for police reform since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, even introducing legislation named after Floyd.

While that legislation has stalled in Congress, Biden did sign an executive order banning federal officers from using chokeholds and restricting no-knock warrants.

“Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mother come true: Something good must come from this,” Biden said.

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