FORT MYERS, Fla. — A crowd gathered downtown Fort Myers to honor the life of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by Memphis Police and died days later at a hospital.
Ever since his death, communities across the United States have held vigils and peaceful protests in his honor. On Wednesday, on the day Nichols was laid to rest, the Southwest Florida Community came together to do the same. One of the organizers for the vigil said the purpose of the gathering was to give the community a time to come together, grieve and see their way through these dark times.
“You see police officers and you see government officials — they are outrage at what happened. It’s not just the everyday citizens,” said Chantel Rhodes, co-organizer of the vigil. “We have police departments who are speaking out saying ‘hey, that’s not okay’.”
“Going back to George Floyd a few years ago, because of movements like that, we have been able to get some accountability,” said Sarah Wilson, co-organizer of the vigil. “We are seeing arrest much quicker. We saw the conviction of Derek Chauvin, but it can’t stop there.”
Around 50 to 60 people gathered for the vigil, including Mayor Kevin Anderson (R-Fort Myers) and Pastor William Glover of Mt. Hermon Church.
“I think the problem is complicated and I don’t think the answers are necessarily simple. We have to get to the will to get to the answer,” said Pastor Glover. “One thing with the situation with Tyre Nichols demonstrated is that it is really large and much more complicated than it being a racial issue because all of the officers involved were African American.”
Pastor Glover added that he feels the incident wasn’t driven by race, but driven by culture and questions what is in the culture of policing that keeps resulting situations like Nichols to happen so frequently.
Mayor Anderson, who is a former police officer, also spoke at the vigil. He was pleased that a vigil was hosted in the city he represents because it brings the issues to the attention of more people.
“That’s what we need, more people understanding whats going on,” Mayor Anderson said. “As a former officer, I had 27 years in law enforcement and it saddens my heart when I see these incidents, where there is either police misbehavior or even the appearance of it. Our job as police officers is to serve our community and keep them safe.”
Mayor Anderson added that anytime he speaks with a new police officer he tells them, “it’s nice to have that title police officer, but in reality you are a public servant.”
During the vigil, many pleaded for justice and for there to be a change to put an end to incidents like what happened with Nichols.
“Beyond this symbolic moment, as elected officials and/or appointed officials, what do they do to go back to work for systemic change? Changes in polices changes in practices, so the culture can begin to change,” Pastor Glover said.
“What I feel would cause a change is, if we take an in-depth look at policing in this country, if we look at ending qualified immunity, if we look at building those relationships to get rid of those bad apples.”
Tuesday, seven Memphis officers who were involved in the incident were relieved from duty, in addition to two Fire EMTS and a lieutenant.