Sharpton's message to 5 Black officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols: 'How dare you!'

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In his eulogy for Tyre Nichols on Wednesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton singled out the five Black Memphis police officers indicted for their roles in Nichols's death.

Noting that the alleged crimes took place not far from the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered on April 4, 1968, while waging a protest campaign to try to ensure the safety of Black workers in the city, Sharpton drew a line connecting the legacy of the slain civil rights hero to the killing of Nichols.

“The reason why, Mr. and Mrs. Wells [Nichols’s stepfather and mother], what happened to Tyre is so personal to me is that five Black men that wouldn’t have had a job in the police department, would not ever be thought of to be in an elite squad in the city that Dr. King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death,” Sharpton said in his address.

The Rev. Al Sharpton
The Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy at the funeral service for Tyre Nichols in Memphis on Wednesday. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

"There's nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us that fight to open doors that you walk through those doors and act like the folks we had to fight for to get you through them doors," Sharpton added. "You didn’t get on the police department by yourself. The police chief didn’t get there by herself. People had to march and go to jail, and some lost their lives to open the doors for you, and how dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing!”

Sharpton’s remarks come amid a debate about whether Nichols’s killing should be seen as another example of racism against Black Americans given that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr., the officers indicted for second-degree murder, aggravated assault and two charges of aggravated kidnapping, are all also Black.

On Tuesday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., noted that the city is “Democrat-controlled and the five officers that have been arrested and charged are Black. And I think that this isn’t an issue of racism or anything like that.”

Sharpton's speech, by contrast, singled out the behavior of the officers and framed it in the larger context of racial relations in the U.S.

Rev. Al Sharpton
The funeral of Tyre Nichols at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

“The tape speaks for itself. They never asked this man for his license. Never asked for the car registration. Snatched him out of the car and began beating him,” Sharpton said. “Nobody mentioned nothing about no girlfriend. Nobody mentioned nothing about — they started beating an unarmed man.”

“In the city that they slayed the dreamer,” he continued, “what has happened to the dream? In the city where the dreamer lay down and shed his blood, you have the unmitigated gall to beat your brother, chase him down and beat him some more, call for backup and they take 20 minutes, and you watch him and you are too busy talking among each other, no empathy, no concern.”

As with the protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, many Americans have demanded that Nichols’s death push the country to embark on systemic changes in law enforcement. Sharpton clearly shares that wish, but he took pains to highlight the behavior of the officers who have been charged.

“We understand that there are concerns about public safety. We understand that there are needs to deal with crime, but you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself. You don’t stand up to thugs in the street [by] becoming thugs yourself. You don’t fight gangs by becoming five armed men against an unarmed man. That ain’t the police, that’s punks.”