On January 7, 2023, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by five Memphis police offers during a traffic stop. Three days later, on January 10, he died in the hospital from his injuries.
The Memphis police department chief said they had not been able to identify or confirm why Nichols was pulled over in the first place.
In the days and weeks that followed, the Nichols family, amidst their grief, demanded the body camera footage from the traffic stop and subsequent beating be released to the public. The Memphis Police Department announced the footage would be released on the evening of Friday, January 27.
In the meantime, all five officers involved were fired and charged with second-degree murder. Subsequently, a sixth officer involved was put on administrative leave, but not charged.
In anticipation of the release of the footage, the department also — in a somewhat unprecedented way — prepared the public for what to expect to see in the video footage, with its police chief describing the contents as “horrifying” and “disgusting,” and city officials described it as heinous and inhumane.
And the Black community prepared to protect itself from witnessing yet another horrifying instance of police brutality. In the days that followed, all around the country, in Memphis and beyond, people came together to protest and demand justice for Tyre — knowing that true justice would be Tyre alive today.
Among their demands, the Nichols family also asked that — in lieu of sharing the horrifying, brutal video of his death — that people would come together to celebrate Tyre’s life.
Nichols had a four-year-old daughter and worked for FedEx. In addition to being an aspiring photographer, Nichols was an avid and dedicated skateboarder.
Before moving to Memphis, Nichols lived in Sacramento, California, where he first started skateboarding. To honor his life, Nichols’ childhood friend, Austin Robert shared a video of him as a 17-year-old — skating around the skate park, or practicing a trick over and over until he got it perfect.
Video: Tyre Nichols Skateboarding (1:43)
“I want him to be remembered as the kid smiling in the skate video and not the kid that was fighting for his life,” Robert told NPR.
In response, the skateboarding community has come together to honor Nichols’ life. In Memphis in particular, skateboarders gathered together to support “one of their own.”
The Memphis skateboarding community is coming together to honor Nichols
At the request of the Nichols family, members of the Memphis skateboarding community gathered outside city hall — with their skateboards in tow — to show their support in anticipation of the release of the video footage.
And earlier in the week, family members, supporters, and — you guessed it — skateboarders gathered for a vigil at Tyre’s local skate park, Tobey Skatepark.
At that vigil, Tyre’s mother encouraged those in attendance to protest peacefully, “I don’t want the burning of our city, tearing up the streets. Cause that’s not what my son stood for. And if you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
Nichols’ hometown of Sacramento planned vigils and celebrations to honor his life
On Monday evening, skateboarders from Sacramento are holding a candlelight vigil to honor Nichols as an important member of their skating community at Regency Skate Park.
One Sacramento, California skate shop, The Sac Ramp Skate Shop, also announced an event to honor Nichols’ life and mourn his death.
“Let’s really turn up for Tyre. Back alley will open with few obstacles, ramp open. We will stand up together to celebrate his life, and family,” the skate shop posted on Instagram. “All donations and proceeds to the family, bring your board, and a Balloon to release and honor this man.”
Skaters across the United States are honoring Nichols
Beyond Memphis and Sacramento, skaters continue to honor Nichols’ life.
Portland, Oregon is home to Burnside Skatepark — an iconic skatepark built underneath one of Portland’s many bridges, made famous by the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games. Skaters in Portland hosted a vigil at the skatepark on Friday.
Artist Pandhandle Slim painted a skateboard with a quote from Nichols’ mother — and thousands of skateboarders and allies have reposted or shared this art across social media platforms.
“My son was a beautiful soul. He loved skateboarding. He was just his own person. He didn’t follow what everybody else was doing,” it reads.
One activist attended a Black Lives Matter protest on January 29th in in St. Paul Minnesota, carrying a skateboard with ‘TYRE’ spray painted on it, in lieu of a protest sign.
Kanten Russell, a professional skateboarder and skate park designer based in San Diego, honored Nichols in a recent social media post about the BIPOC skateboarding community, saying, “In times like these where challenges are at an all time high for skateboarders of color (Tyre Nichols Rest in Peace 🙏🏽) it is important to help … enthusiastic and ambitious young adults … create skateparks for people of all backgrounds to enjoy the activities we love to do.”
Some Twitter users have even begun tweeting at Activision and Vicarious Visions Studios — calling on the makers of the popular skateboarding video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater to add a Tyre Nichols memorial in the game, and donating money to a cause he cared about.
On February 3, Tony Hawk announced that he would donate 50% of the proceeds of autographed photos of himself and BMX rider Rick Thorne to Tyre Nichols' memorial fund.
“My proceeds from these will go to the Tyre Nichols Memorial Fund, which includes plans to build a public skatepark in his honor; as our worlds continue to grieve his loss,” Hawk tweeted. “He was a talented skater among other admirable traits. Let’s keep his legacy alive.”
Why is this good news?
Tyre Nichols is so much more than his brutal murder at the hands of police. And though it was heartbreakingly cut far too short, his life deserves to be celebrated.
People have described him as a “free spirit,” and somebody who always brought people together and tried to make them smile. He was encouraging — to the point of waiting hours with someone working to master a trick — and always making other skateboarders “feel like you could do anything.”
When we see heartbreaking things in the news, it can be easy to disassociate, or try to block it out. It makes sense because it’s really painful to pay attention to — but we’d encourage you to lean into that heartbreak rather than looking away.
It’s important that Tyre’s humanity is not only recognized — but celebrated. So while you don’t have to watch the video of his murder (and absolutely should not, if it will be in any way triggering for you), do pay attention to the things that emphasize our shared humanity.
Watch the videos of him skateboarding, and listen to how this community and his loved ones talk about him and honor his life.