WORCESTER - Dozens of people gathered Monday night at City Hall to hold a vigil honoring Tyre Nichols, a Black man who was fatally beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee, and called for more action to address police brutality.
"Continue that fight so we can be a better city, a better commonwealth, a better country," at-Large City Councilor Khrystian E. King said. "This is not about showing up now or showing up for a little while and engaging and pushing an advocating. It has to be a sustained effort to ensure we have equity, equality and justice in every facet of our life and every facet of our community."
Police body cam video released Friday shows five Memphis officers brutally beating the 29-year-old Nichols, shouting expletives and using pepper spray and a baton on him, while he called out for his mother in a traffic stop Jan. 7.
He was hospitalized and died three days later.
The five officers were all fired and were charged Thursday with second-degree murder and other crimes in connection to Nichols' death.
Monday, city officials said two more Memphis police officers were relieved of duty and two EMTs and a firefighter were fired as the investigation surrounding Nichols' death continues.
Reverberations felt nationwide
Vigils nationwide have been organized to remember Nichols.
Monday's city vigil was organized by Free Worcester and the Independent Socialist Group of Worcester.
Nelly Medina, a community activist with Free Worcester, said the vigil is a sign of the community's desire for action on police violence.
"Our meeting here this evening signifies resistance as we gather fearlessly, unapologetically," Medina said. "We seek justice desperately for Tyre Nichols and know every 28 hours before and after his murder, law enforcement, vigilantes or security guards take a life in this country."
Ashley Rogers with the Independent Socialist Group said protestors have been in the same place before, organizing in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, and setting off a summer of protest calling for changes to policing in the country.
Rogers said that politicians ignored calls to defund the police and, instead, increased their budgets. She said the violence displayed in the Memphis video is inherent in the police system, referencing the shooting death of Sayed Faisal in Cambridge in early January, who advanced towards officers with a knife.
"This is not an isolated incident. This isn't a case of bad apples. This is business as usual for the police, all police," Rogers said.
Worcester not immune to scrutiny
As the nation reels from the video of Nichols' assault, Worcester has been in the midst of a moment of increased scrutiny on its police department.
Worcester police are currently under a civil investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins and the Department of Justice, attempting to determine whether a pattern of discriminatory practices or excessive use of force exists within the police department.
Friday, the Telegram & Gazette reported the city recently paid $272,500 to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought against the police captain who acts as the department's civil rights officer and commands its investigative division.
Rogers referenced the DOJ investigation in her speech and compared the hotspot policing model the Memphis officers who beat Nichols utilized to Worcester's adoption of ShotSpotter Connect technology.
She also called for a greater organized movement to combat racist policing and a democratic body with complete oversight over the police.
Prayers, calls for justice
As a Black man and an elected official, King said desensitization from the trauma of incidents like the death of Nichols is all too common and escaping the presence of such violent footage can feel nearly impossible.
"I encourage everyone to think about that trauma, to take of yourselves, take care of your family and loved ones," King said. "And that's as important as the advocacy."
The participants held candles as a prayer was recited for Nichols and for justice in his case. A few audience members gave brief thoughts on the death of Nichols.
The event concluded with an impromptu singing of the civil rights movement anthem, "We Shall Overcome."
Saturday, Worcester Police Chief Steven M. Sargent and City Manager Eric D. Batista both released statements condemning the actions of the Memphis officers, and promised to work to improve community relations with police and dismantling systemic racism in city government.
The weekend after the release of the video had been quiet in the city with no organized protests.
The vigil organizers emphasized that the event was not a protest and was meant to be a time to reflect on the pain caused by Nichols' death.
Material from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Worcester candlelight vigil remembers Tyre Nichols, calls for action on police violence