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‘There’s a lot of tension’: Gainesville civil rights group to hold vigil after police killing of Tyre Nichols. Here’s what you need to know
0130 2023 Tyre
Protesters march Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn., over the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police. - photo by Gerald Herbert | Associated Press

A longtime Gainesville civil rights group will hold a prayer vigil Monday evening for Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man whose fatal beating by Memphis police officers, also Black, sparked outrage across the country.

The vigil is meant to provide “the community a space to come, be together, to share their thoughts, to create a kind of healing space, a place of comfort and unity,” said Rose Johnson, executive director of Newtown Florist Club, a civil rights group founded in 1950 and headquartered in a modest house on Demorest Street. 

Vigil for Tyre Nichols 

When: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 30 

Where: 682 Grove St., Gainesville

The vigil will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the city’s Midland Greenway. 

“Our goal all along has been to always use these national cases as a way to help prevent incidents like this from happening in our community,” Johnson said. 

“The treatment of Tyre Nichols goes beyond anything that we could ever imagine — it reopens old wounds,” she added, referring to the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

Following the release of footage of the beating last week, Johnson said she sent emails to the Gainesville Chief of Police Jay Parrish and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch alerting them to the possibility of protests. 

Johnson said she is not aware of any protests so far in her community. 

“But what I do know is that people have been talking, and I think that what you have is a community of people who are just tired, just really tired. Like, here we go again,” she said. “And, you know, just because you don't see the public protests, it doesn't mean that people are not — there's a lot of tension in this space with what has happened to Tyre Nichols.” 

Police Chief Jay Parrish put out a statement on social media Friday condemning the five police officers who he said murdered Nichols and pledged to continue having conversations about police accountability. 

“I am sickened by the actions of these five men that took an oath to protect the very person they murdered,” he said. “In communities like Gainesville, love, sacrifices, and relationships built over years can be affected by the poor actions of a few. We hope the pursuit of Justice has begun with the arrest of the five former officers.” 

Five Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death, the Associated Press reported. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. 

Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, AP reported. 

The footage released Friday shows police beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him in an assault that the Nichols family legal team has likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is propped against a squad car and the officers exchange fist-bumps.

Cities nationwide had braced for demonstrations after the video emerged, but protests were scattered and nonviolent, AP reported. Several dozen demonstrators in Memphis blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas. Protesters also blocked traffic in New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.