President Joe Biden acknowledged the family of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after Memphis police officers beat him during a traffic stop, while addressing the need for law enforcement reform during the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) invited RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ mother and stepfather, to the address. Vice President Kamala Harris attended Nichols’ funeral last week, and some elected officials have used his death to push for police reform in Congress after the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act failed to pass last year.
“There are no words to describe the heartbreak and grief of losing a child. But imagine what it is like to lose a child at the hands of the law,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden said he never had to have the talk with his children about policing issues that “so many” Black families had to have with their kids. Public safety officials depend on “public trust,” he added, and the trust is too often “violated.”
Rodney Wells and RowVaughn Wells attended the State of the Union as guests.
“I know most cops are good, decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield,” the president said.“But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better. Give law enforcement the training they need, hold them to higher standards and help them succeed in keeping everyone safe.”
The Wells family has been thrust into the national spotlight after police officers beat Nichols, 29, on Jan. 7. Body-camera footage of the incident shows officers punching, pepper-spraying and shouting obscenities at Nichols, who died three days later.
Nichols can be heard saying “I didn’t do anything” and “I’m just trying to go home” in the video.
Activists used a graphic photo of Nichols in a hospital bed to raise awareness about the incident and bring national attention to his story.
Six Memphis Police Department officers have been fired, and five face charges including murder and kidnapping. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department suspended two deputies who were on the scene during the arrest, and the Memphis Fire Department fired three employees who were tasked with rendering aid to Nichols.
The Department of Justice announced Friday it would investigate the Memphis Police Department.