Sary Mansour ran into Tyre Nichols at a Memphis Starbucks less than a week before five police officers fatally beat him.
They had worked together at a Verizon store in the city in 2014 for a few years. Initially, they were competitive over who got the most sales but soon enough they started hanging out at their manager’s home or at team bowling events, where they got to know each other better. They lost touch after Nichols moved to Sacramento for a few years, but their chance meeting at Starbucks gave them a chance to catch up. Nichols told Mansour about his young son, and how he was finding life back in Memphis.
Nichols was laid back, funny, sensitive and a people person, Mansour tells TIME. “When it came to him talking to women or anybody, he knew how to strike up a conversation. He had a lot of game; he was very charismatic,” he says.
Thousands of mourners gathered Wednesday for Nichols’ funeral in Memphis, where his life was celebrated and remembered by his family. Rev. Al Sharpton, national civil rights attorney Ben Crump and mothers of other victims of police violence including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd also played prominent roles.
“Tyre was a beautiful person and for this to happen to him is just unimaginable,” said RowVaughn Wells, Nichols’ mother, through tears. “I promise you, the only thing that’s keeping me going is the fact that I really truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God and I guess now his assignment is done and he’s been taken home.”
Wells and others who spoke at the funeral, including Vice President Kamala Harris, urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a sweeping police reform bill that would establish a national standard for police departments, require increased data collection on police encounters and enforce a federal ban on chokeholds.
“When I think about the courage and strength of this family, I think it demands we speak truth; this violent act was not in pursuit of safety; it was not in the interest of keeping the public safe,” Harris said.
Nichols’ siblings reminisced about their childhood at the funeral. His brother told a story of how Tyre got his name—a name that was originally supposed to be his brother’s. (It was after the character Tyree in the 1980s American Western film Silverado.) Nichols’ sister shared a poem. The first line read: “I’m just trying to go home; is that too much to ask; I didn’t break any laws along this path.” Another sister recalled how Nichols was among the easiest of her siblings to look after because all he wanted was to watch cartoons and eat a bowl of cereal.
Mansour didn’t attend the funeral, but has spent the last several days remembering their time together. He remembers watching Nichols wrestle with anxiety as well as his father’s terminal illness. “Even after he went through these issues with his parents, he still found a way to stay OK,” he says.
Nichols—an avid skateboarder—would often bring his skateboard with him to work and would even do flips in the mall where the Verizon shop was located, Mansour recalls.
One of Mansour’s favorite memories is of Nichols hiding inside a giant pop-up 3-D model to scare his coworkers. “I see it move and I’m just like there’s no way. And the next thing I know, he screamed my name and jumped out,” he says.
Nichols was a huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers football team and was very family oriented, Mansour says.
Mansour was out with friends when he watched official video of the incident released by the city to the public last week. He describes the incident as “sickening.”“Looking at the police, it seems there is something more personal,” he said. “It’s more saddening than shocking.”
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