“Enough is enough,” attendees say at candlelight vigil
By Jessica Meditz
On a chilly Monday evening, Queens leaders and community residents gathered at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens to honor the life and legacy of Tyre Nichols with a candlelight vigil.
The 29-year-old father, photographer and FedEx worker had a fatal encounter with police in Memphis, Tennessee on Jan. 7, being brutally beaten by five officers during a traffic stop.
The body camera footage of the incident was just released this past Friday, sparking outrage and calls for justice across the nation.
The fate of Nichols, a Black man, has been compared to that of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – both of whom died at the hands of police.
The five officers involved in the beating of Nichols have been fired and charged with murder. As the investigation continued, additional officers and EMS personnel have been relieved of their duties in relation to his death.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, a Black man and father to a young son, delivered emotional remarks to the people in attendance. He recalled his own stop-and-frisk encounter at the age of 13, when he had guns drawn on him – because he fit the description of a robber.
He thanked all attendees for showing up and commended the diversity seen in the crowd.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do this, because we often go through this alone – behind closed doors,” Richards said with tearful eyes.
“I held my son a little tighter trying to prepare myself to watch that video. It weighed heavy.”
Richards said that even as people try to come up with theories as to why Nichols was stopped, it does not matter why – and he did not deserve to die.
“[Nichols’ mother] carried the strength of Emmett Till’s mom as I heard her speak. We’ve been on these steps too many times, and this trauma doesn’t get easier,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Borough President…it doesn’t matter how much legislation we pass, we always live with this.”
He called for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restrict the use of certain policing practices, enhance transparency and data collection and establish best practices and training requirements, according to its summary.
Richards also demanded the end to qualified immunity, and denounced the plan of NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to weaken the department’s disciplinary guidelines.
“This is about one standard. One law that works for everyone,” he said.
Councilman James Gennaro echoed Richards’ sentiments, calling for justice and equity for America’s Black community.
Gennaro, 65, says he remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination “like it was yesterday,” and has seen much injustice throughout his lifetime and years of public service.
“Everyone here is trying to make a little bit of a difference by being here – holding onto one another, recognizing the work that still needs to be done, by joining together in prayer for the Nichols family, and all the Tyre Nichols out there that we don’t know about,” he said. “Every day, right now, somebody’s getting pulled over, something’s happening that shouldn’t happen…I don’t want to stand here at 75 years old saying the same thing.”
Richards opened up the space for members of the community to speak to the crowd, where several mothers, fathers, faith leaders and local advocates took the opportunity to grieve together.
“This is another shameful moment in America, and for all of us. When will this tragedy stop? It can stop when we all say ‘enough is enough,’ when police killings change to police protection, when hearts and minds are changed,” said Ashook Ramsaran, executive vice president at Queens Civic Congress.
“This should not happen again and we must make sure of that,” he continued. “To the Nichols family, we feel, we grieve and we mourn with you.”
Lori Zeno, executive director at Queens Defenders, has worked in the criminal justice system for 35 years. She said that she’s lost count of the amount of times clients have informed her over the years about the beatings, name calling and disrespect by police.
“Lives are being ruined, hearts are being broken and spirits are being broken, for what? Because we have a police department who, not all police, but many of our police are brutal and they think that if they are stopping you, or you are in their way, or you’re Black or Brown, that you don’t have a right to live,” she said.
Zeno is angry and appalled at the delayed response of EMS personnel to aid and transport Nichols to the hospital, as well as the fact that his mother had to see her son’s head swollen to the size of a watermelon.
She called on all those in attendance to reach out to the powers that be, including the police commissioner, Mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul, all local officials and even President Joe Biden to bring police brutality to a full stop and remove all current officers with previous offenses.
Groups of attendees showed up with signs that read “Your silence is violence” and “If you were peaceful, we wouldn’t have to protest,” adorned with flowers and photos of Nichols’ smiling face.
Saxophonist Steven Salcedo serenaded the audience with familiar, sentimental music, including closing out with “Amazing Grace” in Nichols’ memory.