Members of the Marblehead community converged Sunday afternoon for a Seaside Park vigil to grieve the police killing of Tyre Nichols last month in Memphis, Tennessee.
On Jan. 7, five Memphis Police Department officers beat Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, following a traffic stop. He died three days later. Nichols’ death is another incident of longstanding police brutality against Black men in the United States. The officers have since been fired and charged with second-degree murder.
“Why is it that we continue to gather again and again in the same fashion? Why do Black and Brown people always seem to be the victims of violence in the society that we live in? Why is it that this persists?” asked the Rev. James Bixby, the Clifton Lutheran Church’s pastor, when he opened the vigil. “There’s no easy answer, but It seems to happen again and again, and we gather again and again.”
He added, “And if something’s changing, I’m not seeing it.”
The vigil included a moment of silence. Organizers handed out candles for people to light at home. Some held signs that read, “Tyre. We cry out. We lament. We demand justice.”
Among the gathered community members were Marblehead Police Cheif Dennis King, Select Board members Jackie Belf-Becker and Jim Nye, Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El, the Rev. Jenna Crawford of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead and state Rep. Jenny Armini.
“The idea that some lives matter less is at the root of all that is wrong,” said Armini, quoting the late public health advocate Dr. Paul Farmer. “I want us to just sit with that idea.”
On Jan. 27, Memphis officials released video footage of the traffic stop, showing officers allegedly tasing, pepper spraying, beating and restraining Nichols. Just before the video concludes, Nichols called out to his mother, whose home was 80 yards from where officers pulled her son over.
King urged his Marblehead police officers to watch the video. He said he found police officers perpetrating violence against somebody in the community whom they swore to protect disturbing.
“There’s nothing in my 28 years of law enforcement that I could ever imagine seeing,” he told the crowd, referring to the video. After the video was released, King joined other local law enforcement officials in condemning what transpired on Jan. 7.
“We stand proudly with our community leaders to guarantee MPD officers are trained in the applications of force, the duty to intervene, the duty to render care and the sanctity of human life,” King wrote. “In addition, we promote a department culture based on compassion, understanding individuals’ frailties and treating everyone equally, with respect. This is our approach every day, on every call, and we work tirelessly to provide this level of service.”
Marblehead residents Jessica’ Little Feather’ Penn and Sherry ‘Smiling Otter’ Gagne attend Sunday’s vigil. The couple said the gathering put community members’ character on display.
“I think the vigil shows that the community cares so much,” said Penn. “It sends a message, so it’s really nice that they did this today.”
“We’re done with the empty thoughts and prayers. We’re beyond the what-are-we-going-to-do-about-it stage?” said Bixby as he closed out the 20-minute vigil. “We’re on the we-can-make-a-difference [stage].”
Think about the ways to get involved, he told attendees.
“Are there policies that we can enact? Are there things we can do in Congress? Is there somebody I can vote for?” he said. “We’ve got to be asking ourselves these questions because this is enough. Enough is enough.”