Around them, the skate park was quickly filling with people. Eventually, more than 100 would show up to the memorial for Nichols, the 29-year-old killed by police officers in Memphis, where he had moved in 2020. Five officers face murder charges. A sixth has been suspended. The unit they were a part of has been disbanded. Video of the brutal beating has spread far and wide, but most of Nichols’s old crew said they’ve tried to avoid it. Nichols joins a long list of hashtagged names that police violence has made famous, but to the friends who’d known him a long time, his death is not a rallying cry but an acute and intimate pain.
“Some days, when I think about him, it hurts so much that I try to just sleep it off,” Williams said.
“I wish I could’ve seen him more,” Danforth said.
“When you get older, it’s hard to stay in touch sometimes,” said Alex Wilson, lighting his candle below a cupped hand to shield the breeze.
Away from the news cameras and the crowd clustering in the center of the park, the crew gathered behind a big ramp at the far edge, placing their candles in a tight circle along its base. Arms draped around one another, they huddled together over the flickering warmth, memories rushing back with a flood of nostalgia.
“This place was the best, man,” said Ryan Wilson, gazing around at the ramps where he first learned to skate.
“Anybody who showed up here was part of the family,” Danforth said.
Danforth and Alex Wilson had been the first in the crew to move into this subdivision in Natomas, a vast and flat Sacramento suburb spanning from the airport to the city center. When their families arrived in the early 2000s, most of the neighborhood, including Regency Park, was still under construction, part of a housing boom sweeping across the vacant grasslands north of the city.
Conveniently located at the intersection of Interstates 5 and 80 — Northern California’s two main arteries — Natomas offered easy access to downtown at an affordable price that lured first-time homebuyers from around the region and across a diverse range of class backgrounds and ethnicities.
As more houses went up, more young families moved in to fill them. Tyre Nichols and his father arrived around five months after Danforth and Alex Wilson. The three preteens explored their unfinished neighborhood together. Some days, they traversed the wood frames of soon-to-be houses, trying to shoot each other with airsoft guns. Most days, they met up at Regency Park, which, at the time, was just fields of dirt surrounding a construction zone that workers covered with tarp when they clocked out every evening. Beneath the tarp, a skate park was taking shape. Danforth, Alex Wilson, and Nichols were all novice skateboarders, and after the construction workers would leave, they’d pull off the tarps and test their moves on the freshly installed ramps and rails.