Over the last two decades, the Rev. Al Sharpton has assumed has become the leading eulogist for Black victims of police violence.
On Wednesday, he is speaking at the funeral of Tyre Nichols, who died three days after a Jan. 7 traffic stop that turned into a brutal assault by five officers who have been charged with second-degree murder.
It is a familiar position for Mr. Sharpton. He has delivered remarks at the funerals of George Floyd, whose 2020 death in Minneapolis sparked national protests; Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis in 2021; Eric Garner, whose dying words on a New York City street, “I can’t breathe,” became a national rallying cry; Alton Sterling, who was shot by the police in Baton Rouge, La., in 2016; and much older cases, including the 1997 death of William J. Whitfield, an unarmed man shot on Christmas Day in Brooklyn.
Mr. Sharpton is eulogizing Mr. Nichols at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, a few miles from the Mason Temple, where, 55 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his searing “Mountaintop” speech in support of striking Black sanitation workers the day before he was assassinated.
It was at the Mason Temple on Tuesday night that Mr. Sharpton, surrounded by clergy leaders, relatives and supporters crowding the pulpit, spoke about the continued struggle against police violence. With images of Mr. Nichols’s brutalized body behind him, framed with the words “I Am a Man” — a slogan the striking workers used more than a half-century ago — Mr. Sharpton invoked Dr. King’s, speech, in which he said he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land.
“We wanted to bring this family, the night before the funeral, the night before Dr. King was killed, where he spoke — and they’re standing on that ground — because we will continue, in Tyre’s name, to head up to Martin’s mountaintop,” Mr. Sharpton said.
Mr. Sharpton also directly addressed the officers who assaulted Mr. Nichols.
“When you can beat a man, chase him down and beat him some more, and then let him lay there wounded for over 20 minutes, and think nothing would happen, you thought that no one would respond, you thought no one would care,” Mr. Sharpton said on Tuesday. “Well, tomorrow, the vice president of the United States is coming to his funeral. And people are coming from all over the world. And we’re coming because we’re all Tyre now. We’re all going to stand up with this family. They will never, ever recover from the loss.”
Criminal justice reform has long been at the center of Mr. Sharpton’s activism, including protests in the wake of the brutal attack on Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was tortured inside a Brooklyn precinct station in 1997. Mr. Sharpton’s National Action Network, founded in 1991, has pushed against racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policing and other law enforcement approaches that are often decried as racist.