President Biden talked of Tyre Nichols amid push for police reform during State of the Union
President Joe Biden spoke about the police killing of Tyre Nichols during the State of the Union address Tuesday, balancing his condemnation of five former Memphis police officers with his respect for police officers and an acknowledgement of all that is asked of them.
His remarks on Nichols' death followed commentary on a spike in violent crime that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic that dovetailed with comments for the need on public safety.
"Public safety depends on public trust as all of us know. Too often, that trust is violated," Biden said.
Biden spoke of "the talk" — a reference to conversations parents of color often have with their offspring on what to do, and what not to do, if pulled over or stopped by law enforcement. Most people in the room, Biden said, referring to Congress, have not had to worry about instructing their own children on how to safely navigate encounters with law enforcement.
"There's no words to describe the heartache and grief of losing a child, but imagine... imagine if you lost that child at the hands of the law," Biden said. "Imagine having to worry if your son or daughter came home from walking down the street, playing in a park, or just driving a car.
Nichols' parents, Rodney and RowVaughn Wells, were invited to the State of the Union by U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. The camera focused on the Wells several times throughout Biden's remarks.
"Just as every cop that pins on that badge in the morning has a right to go home every night, so does everybody else out there. Our children have a right to come home safely. Equal protection under the law is a covenant we have with each other in America," Biden said, as some Congress members rose to their feet.
Biden continued his remarks by addressing what he characterized as an ongoing need for police reform.
The Reverend J. Lawrence Turner, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, where Nichols' funeral was held last week, attended the speech at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.
Michael Brown Sr., whose teen son Michael's fatal shooting by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 ignited furor nationwide and sparked the national growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, was expected to attend the event.
Six Memphis police officers were fired, with five being charged with second-degree murder and other offenses, after the 29-year-old Nichols, a FedEx employee and father of one, died Jan. 10, three days after a traffic stop. Video released later by the city showed officers beating, pepper spraying and using a Taser on Nichols.
Two emergency medical technicians and a Memphis firefighter were also fired for failing to render aid to Nichols.
Memphis police officials said a seventh officer has been suspended and numerous other officers are facing an internal investigation because of Nichols' death.
Since Nichols died, Memphis has seen multiple peaceful protests, including one on Saturday that blocked the intersection of Poplar Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard for much of Saturday, as demonstrators demand changes in the way police deal with residents and disclose the use of force.
The officers who stopped Nichols were part of the specialized SCORPION unit, which the city has said has been disbanded. The entire department and its operations are under review. SCORPION stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.
The FBI is investigating the circumstances of Nichols' death.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee also address Nichols' death during his State of the State address Monday night in Nashville. Lee said he has been in constant prayer for his family and said the courage and compassion shown by the Nichols family and the city of Memphis is a "picture of hope."
"We have been in constant prayer for the Nichols family since they tragically lost their son in January," Lee said in his annual address. "Their courage, along with the compassion shown by the people of Memphis, is a picture of hope."
At the time of the video's release, Lee condemned the actions of the officers.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: president biden talked of tyre nichols amid police reform in state of the union