MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a sweeping eulogy for Tyre Nichols on Wednesday, Rev. Al Sharpton drew parallels of his death to the Biblical Joseph by the hands of his brothers, and recalled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death in Memphis - making a new call for police reform legislation as Dr. King once worked for change in the same city.
Rev. Sharpton spoke at length, touching on themes of perseverance, anger, and remembrance of Nichols, whose police beating death has sparked a national outcry and renewed calls for foundational changes in American policing practices.
The reverend highlighted the passage in the Bible where Joseph's brothers plotted to kill him and leave him in a pit to die. Their plan, Sharpton explained, was to make up a story and cover up his death.
Speaking to the police officers who beat Tyre Nichols and left him dying, "I come to Memphis today to tell you the same mistake Joseph's brothers made is the mistake you've made. You thought you threw Joseph in a pit, you thought you threw Dr. King's Dream in a pit, but every time you throw something in a pit, God takes the pit and raises it up and changes the whole world.
The reverend added: "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 the elite squad - in the city that Dr. King lost his life... you beat a Brother to death. 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 to get you through them doors."
"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?"
You can read the full remarks by Rev. Sharpton below, and see his remarks in the video player above this story.
Full Rev. Al Sharpton eulogy for Tyre Nichols
I want you to turn your attention very briefly to the 37th Chapter of Genesis.
It reads, "So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan, but they saw him in the distance and before he reached them they plotted to kill him. Here comes that dreamer, they said to each other, come now let’s kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns and say that a ferocious animal has devoured him."
Early this morning before dawn, I did what I often do when I come to Memphis – I went out to the Lorraine Motel. As a youngster I joined SCLC Operation Bread Basket, I had been a boy preacher in the Church of God in Christ and my mother was concerned when I was 12 that I was getting too involved in looking at activism and … she took me to my bishop... (who) said I know what to do with him - brought me to Rev. William Jones, who led Dr. King's organization in New York and Rev. Jessee Jackson, and at 13 - the year Dr. King died I was 13 years old - I became youth director of the chapter in New York.
So it was my growing up in the King movement in the north, after his death, that makes me come to the Lorraine Hotel and look at the spot that Dr. King died. This morning I took my youngest daughter Ashely with me and in all of the ice I told the story of how Dr. King had came to Memphis to fight for garbage workers, city employees that had no safety - to have been killed with a malfunction.
And here we are Ashely, 55 years later, looking at the balcony where Martin Luther King shed his blood for city workers, for Black city workers to be able to work in the police department, work in sanitation. And the reason why, Mr. and Mrs, Wells, 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 the elite squad - in the city that Dr. King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a Brother to death.
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 to get you through them doors.
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?
You ain’t in no New England state, you’re in Tennessee - where we had to fight for you. And you take that position and do what we saw? And then some of y’all got all this mess on social media - let me tell you something, I don’t know what you're writing on social media, I know what I saw on the tape, and 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. Nobnody mentioned nothing about no girlfriend, nobody mentioned nothing about no – they started beating an unarmed man.
In the city that they slayed the Dreamer, what has happened to the Dream?
In the city where the Dreamer laid 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? If you read the story of Joseph, when his brothers threw him in the pit nobody came to help him like nobody came to help Tyre - waiting on ambulance service that didn’t show up until it’s too late.
What will happen to his Dream?
"Well we’ll just tell them something else happened, but we are gonna throw him him the pit." But I come to Memphis today to tell you the same mistake Joseph’s brothers made is the mistake you’ve made. You thought you threw Joseph in a pit, you thought you threw Dr. King’s Dream in a pit, but every time you throw something in a pit, God takes the pit and raises it up and changes the whole world.
Let me be clear: We understand 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.
Man said, "I didn’t do nothing." You kept on going anyhow. Why do they go ahead? Because they feel that there is no accountability. They feel that we are going to get angry a day or two and then we’ll go on to something else. But some of us do this every day, some of us believe the Dream has to come true, some of us are going to fight until we make this legislation happen. I don’t know when I don’t know how, but we won’t stop until we hold you accountable and change this system.
Why do we want to see the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed? Because then you have to think twice before you beat Tyre Nichols. You think twice before you shoot at someone unarmed. You think twice before you chokehold Eric Garner, you think twice before you put your knee on George Floyd’s neck, because if you don’t have qualified immunity, your wife would be telling you before you leave home "behave yourself, because we could lose the house, we could lose the car. Behave yourself because our savings can be gone." You wanna be a tough guy? Well let’s get rid of qualified immunity and see if you learn the same manners you have on the white side of town, you’ll have some manners on the Black side of town.
"Well Reverend Al, you don’t understand, how are they gonna keep crime down in the Black community? And at the same time not be tough and rough?" Well they do it the same way they do it on the white side of Memphis and keep the crime down without being rough and tough. How do you have the same department can keep crime down on one side of town without beating folks to death, but you can't do it on the other side of town unless you feel you can get away with it there? I can't speak for everyone in Memphis, I can't speak for everybody gathering, but for me I believe that if that man had been white you wouldn’t have beaten him like that that night.
We’re not asking for nothing special. We’re asking to be treated equal and to be treated fair and just like they marched and boycotted and went to jail for nine years from the '55 Montgomery Bus Boycott to the '64 Civil Rights act, we are gonna pay the same dues to get this George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
"Reverend, how long?" I don’t know how long. They didn’t know how long it would be when they boycotted in the '50s. It's not about a timetable, it's about we cannot continue to live under these double standards and these conditions. We don’t care how long. But I can tell you one thing - those of you that keep voting against that bill, we’re going to vote against you. We've got more numbers than the police unions.
I believe that God will do for us what we would do for ourselves – and even in the pit, Joseph never lost his faith. Joseph could have gave up, Joseph could have gave out, but in the pit he still believed in the God of his fathers, and even as I stand over the casket of this innocent young boy - this young man, 29 years old with a 4-year-old son that his mother and father and his siblings have to raise - I believe that God will take Tyre out of that pit and use him as a symbol for justice all over this country.
I believe that babies unborn will know about Tyre Nichoos because we won't let his memory die. w\We are going to change this country because we refuse to keep living under the threat of the cops and the robbers.
What touched me - I was raised by a single mother, daddy left when I was 10, momma raised my sister and I on welfare and food stamps - what touched me is when I heard him calling for his mother. Just like George Floyd calling for his mother. Something you’d have to be a Black man - that the only thing between you and disaster, was your mother - to understand what calling for your mother means.
Somewhere deep in my heart I understood Tyre, because the only thing that kept the kids from laughing at my banana sandwiches in school, because she couldn’t afford to put meat there, but momma would make it alright for me. And he knew if he could just get mother they would quit beating on him and stomping on him.
All he wanted to do was get home... home is not just a place, home is not just a physical location, home is where you are at peace, home is where you don’t have to keep your dukes up, home is where you're not vulnerable, home is where everything is alright. He said all I want to do is get home.
I come to Memphis to say the reason I keep going is all I'm trying to do is get home, I wanna get where they can't treat me with a double standard, I'm trying to get home, I want to get where they can't call me names no more, I want to get home, I want to get where they cant shoot now and ask questions later, I'm trying to get home, every Black in America stands up every day trying to get home.
Last night we went to Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ, and the Wells family and Tyre’s sisters and brothers stood there where Martin Luther King gave his last speech. They didn’t know that night it was his speech for the last time. I was told by those that worked with King, that raised me, and I've recounted it with Mrs. King... they told me that that day, April 3, 1968, it was raining and storming. Dr. King said he didn’t even feel like going to the rally, he had come to Memphis a week before to lead a march for the sanitation workers and some provocateurs got at the end of the march. You know there are still some around now - that’s Blacker than anybody else, that’s more active than anybody else, that's more street than anybody else - they started a riot at the end of the march and the press said, "Oh Dr. King's day is over non-violence is dead."
So he came back to prove that he could march. If it wasn’t for so-called militants, Dr. King never would have faced what he faced, that’s why all of these people talking bad - that you and I don’t know, don’t have no background on - be careful of who jumps in movements, because they set serious folk up.
Dr. King came back and that day was raining and he said to Dr. Ralph Abernathy, "Ralph you go speak, I don’t feel like going tonight." And they went on to the church and when they got there the church was full, in a storm, and Dr. Abernathy went into the payphone and he called back to the Lorraine Motel - a Black owned motel - told them to put his call to room 306. Dr. King picked up the phone, he said, "Martin you need to come, there are thousands here, they didn’t come to see me."
Dr King got in the car by himself and rode over the Mason Temple and he started speaking that night, and something came over him that night. He said that I don’t fear any man, he said God has allowed me to go to the mountaintop and I've seen the promised land. And that’s the last speech he gave, right here in Memphis.
When he went to the mountaintop I believe when he looked over he could see a Barack Obama become president, I believe when he went to the mountaintop he could look over and see a Kamala Harris sitting as vice president, I believe when he looked over from the mountaintop he saw Black police chiefs. He didn’t expect you to disgrace him, he expected you to bring us on to the promised land.
That's why I'm still marching. Yes I've got books out, yes I've got a TV show, but I'm a mountain climber. I'm not gonna stop til I get t to the top of the mountain - you can call me names on right wing television, I'm a mountain climber. I expect stumbles to come my way, I'm a mountain climber. You can disgrace me, you can discredit me, but I'm gonna keep climbing, I'm gonna climb until Tyre Nichols gets justice. I'm gonna climb until Eric Garner gets justice, I'm gonna climb until we change the laws. We're mountain climbers, and God before us is more than the whole world against us, he walks with me, he talks with me, he tells me that I'm his own, he's been food when I was hungry, water when I was thirsty, he's my rock, he's my rock, he's my rock, my sword and shield, yes, yes.
Let us have a call to action: Let us go forward to get justice. Let us all be mountain climbers. Don’t stop til we get to the top.