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The city of Memphis preparing for the funeral of Tyre Nichols

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The city of Memphis is preparing to bury Tyre Nichols, the Black man who died after a brutal beating at the hands of five Memphis police officers. His funeral on Wednesday morning is expected to draw thousands of mourners and also prominent African American leaders. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Memphis and joins us now. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so tell us about the preparations underway for the funeral tomorrow.

FLORIDO: Well, Nichols' funeral is going to be held at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. It's a massive sanctuary in midtown Memphis. And the church's pastor, the Reverend J. Lawrence Turner, says he's expecting more than 2,500 people - this despite the fact that Memphis is currently experiencing an ice storm that has sent temperatures plummeting and made the roads pretty dangerous. Nichols' eulogy is going to be delivered by the Reverend Al Sharpton. And other prominent Black leaders will also be here, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who called Tyre Nichols' parents earlier today and told them that she would be attending.

CHANG: You know, listening to you describe that, it does strike me that in the last few years, we have seen several of these high-profile funerals for Black people killed by police.

FLORIDO: Yeah.

CHANG: You know, I'm thinking back to George Floyd's funeral in 2020, which was this highly political event. Are we expecting something similar tomorrow, you think?

FLORIDO: Yeah, Ailsa. These really have become kind of a national ritual, these funerals.

CHANG: Yeah.

FLORIDO: They're not just burials. They're also sort of becoming stages for African American leaders and the families of the victims to draw attention to the persistent scourge of police brutality, especially directed at African Americans. The Reverend Al Sharpton, as you might remember, also delivered the eulogy for George Floyd's funeral. And that eulogy was a touching tribute to George Floyd's life, but it also was an impassioned plea for justice, for equality and for police reform. And in the years since, there's been very little progress on police reform, at least on the federal level. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has gone nowhere. And in the days since Nichols' death, Black leaders and also President Biden have called on Congress to pass it. So Nichols' funeral tomorrow will probably be an opportunity for Black leaders to remind Americans that the problem of police brutality has not gone away, that police reform is still needed both federally and locally.

CHANG: Right. Well, I mean, Tyre Nichols' death and the video of his brutal beating - I mean, they've already forced some change in Memphis, like the five police officers involved in his beating were charged with murder. But the fallout, it's still ongoing. Where do things stand at the moment?

FLORIDO: Well, in the last couple of days, we saw the police chief disband the unit of which all five of those officers were members. It was called the Scorpion Unit, and it was the specialized unit that the Memphis PD used to patrol high-crime areas. Officials here in Memphis are continuing to investigate the actions of other officers but also emergency medical personnel who responded during and after Tyre Nichols' beating. We've learned that two more police officers were suspended. Two sheriff's officers have been relieved of duty pending investigation. Two EMTs who responded to the scene have been fired for failing to adequately respond to Nichols' injuries, and so has a lieutenant with the fire department. And Memphis police and prosecutors say that in the coming days that more criminal charges could come.

CHANG: That is NPR's Adrian Florido in Memphis. Thank you so much, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.