Content warning: Descriptions of violence and death
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Dozens of Harvard students mourned the death of Tyre D. Nichols — the 29-year-old Black skateboarder and photographer who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers following a traffic stop — in a vigil in front of Memorial Church on a drizzly Sunday evening.
The vigil came days after the Memphis Police Department released graphic body camera and surveillance footage of officers beating Nichols, which sparked nationwide fury over police brutality. In the video clips, officers beat Nichols and threaten violence, while he appears to lie on the ground.
Around two weeks after Nichols’ death, the five officers involved in his arrest were fired. Last Thursday, all five were indicted on charges of second-degree murder. The Memphis Police Department also disbanded the controversial SCORPION Unit to which the former officers belonged.
During Sunday’s vigil, organized by members of Harvard’s Black Student Association, several speakers expressed intense grief over Nichols’ death and fiercely critiqued the American policing system.
Rothsaida Sylvaince ’24, the president of the Black Students Association, told the somber crowd she was “disappointed, tired, angry, and upset.”
“Every time I sit here, and I think about what this unjust police system does to us, does to Black people, the way that it sheds our blood without a care or thought, the way that the police system exercises and abuses its power to subjugate Black people in this country, in a way that’s been done for hundreds of years, I’m angry,” Sylvaince said.
“And I don’t want to keep coming here, having to mourn the light and love of our people,” she added.
Ricardo R. “Ricky” Razon ’25, the vice president of the Generational African American Students Association, spoke in remembrance of Nichols, whose “life was taken from him far too soon at the hands of the shameful and cowardly Memphis Police Department.”
“Tyre Nichols was the father to a young Black boy who was four years old,” he said. “His family shares that he loved to skateboard in his free time and was an avid photographer who enjoyed watching the sunset every night.”
“All of which are things he can no longer do, because he has been taken from us,” Razon added.
In a speech, GAASA Treasurer Michaela K. Glavin ’25 called on the audience to “pause to mourn.”
“We need to feel the sadness, feel the pain, feel the anger that comes with losing a life. We know that the police do not care about our lives,” Glavin said. “If we get so desensitized to the point that we stop feeling loss, we are stripped of the love that makes up the very fabric of what it means to be Black in America.”
In an interview after the vigil, Allison M. Hunter ’26 called on Harvard to publicly acknowledge Nichols’ death, saying the situation could not be treated as “business as usual.”
“The sky is crying, like today,” Hunter said, referencing the sparse raindrops falling over Harvard Yard, “because of how much we’re going through and the injustices that are possible.”
“We need a break,” she added. “We need a place to cry and a place to be Black unapologetically.”
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment. The Memphis Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The videos’ release — and the fatal police shooting of University of Massachusetts Boston student Sayed Faisal in Cambridge earlier this month — spurred a protest and march in the Boston Common on Saturday. Saturday’s protest was organized by the Boston chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
More than 150 protesters — including a handful of Harvard undergraduates — rallied across the street from the Massachusetts State House before marching through downtown Boston, singing “Which Side Are You On?” and chanting “Justice for Tyre” and “No good cops in a racist system.”
Speakers and protesters reiterated demands that the Cambridge Police Department release the names of the officers involved in Faisal’s death, as well as the unredacted police report.
In a statement, CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick said all relevant police reports and the names of responding officers, including the one who shot Faisal, would be released following an inquest led by Middlesex County District Attorney Marian T. Ryan.
Ben B. Roberts ’23, who attended the protest, said he found Nichols’ and Faisal’s deaths “horrifying,” but that he was inspired by the protest’s turnout.
“It’s pretty inspiring to be in crowds like that and to know there’s lots of other people out there who don’t think this is acceptable, who want to do something, who want to change something,” Roberts said. “It makes you feel like you’re part of something, not just angry on your own.”
Jason “Kojo” Acheampong ’26, another attendee of Saturday’s protest, said students “live in a bubble” on campus and urged other students to not become “desensitized” to people being killed by police.
“This is what happened in America today,” he added. “This is the function of police.”
—Staff writer Darley A. C. Boit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.
—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.