Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday mourned the death of Tyre Nichols, calling his death at the hands of police a moment that demands congressional police reform.
“Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe? So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form. Tyre Nichols should have been safe,” Harris said in her brief remarks at his Memphis funeral service.
The vice president expressed hope that Nichols’ death might “shine a light on the path toward peace and justice” as she called on Congress to pass police reform legislation.
Nichols’ funeral service took place less than a week after footage of his arrest was made public, shaking a nation accustomed to videos of police brutality, especially against people of color. The five officers charged with Nichols’ death are Black.
Footage of the brutal attack sparked largely peaceful protests from New York to Los Angeles as well as renewed calls for police reform and scrutiny of specialized police units that target guns in high crime areas.
“As vice president of the United States, we demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Joe Biden will sign it and we should not delay,” Harris said Wednesday.
That legislation, originally introduced in 2020 and again in 2021, would set up a national registry of police misconduct to stop officers from evading consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction.
The bill twice cleared the House under Democratic control – in 2020 and 2021 – largely along party lines. But it never went anywhere in the Senate, even after Democrats won control in 2021, in part, because of disagreements about qualified immunity, which protects police officers from being sued in civil court.
And the road for police reform has only become more challenging in the new Congress now that House Republicans, who have placed their priorities elsewhere, are in the majority.
Senate Democrats picked up one more seat in last year’s midterm elections to pad their majority, but they’re still far short of the 60 votes that would be need for such an effort to succeed. That means any policing overhaul that can find meaningful support in Congress will likely be stripped of the kind of measures for which protesters are calling.
“We have a mother and a father who mourn the life of a young man who should be here today. They have a grandson who now does not have a father. His brothers and sister will lose the love of growing old with their baby brother,” Harris said in her remarks.
“And when we look at this situation, this is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of people who have been charged with keeping them safe.”