By Samin Vafaee
Nestled in North Natomas, the 42-acre Regency Community Park brings people down windy concrete trails and through lush, green open spaces. Visitors encounter dog parks, sport courts, playgrounds and an array of bright, suburban scenes. However, further south, lies a skatepark that now has a meaning all its own.
The spot has officially been named for Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Sacramentan who was killed in January after getting relentlessly beaten by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. The incident happened during a traffic stop while Nichols was on his way home. The five officers have since been charged with assault, kidnapping and murder.
The skatepark in Natomas, which had no official name, will now honor a legacy of one of the city’s own – and his love of skateboarding.
“It would be an honor if the park could be named after my brother,” Keyana Dixon, one of Nichols’ sisters, said at a City Council meeting in late March. “That was where he discovered the most beautiful parts of himself, met lifelong friends and where he picked up the joy of skateboarding.”
Sacramento councilwoman Lisa Kaplan spearheaded the initiative, working with Nichols’ family and friends to get the motion passed. The city council later voted unanimously in favor of naming the park in Nichols’ honor.
“When I learned that Tyre was originally from Sacramento, I became involved with the family to help coordinate a vigil at the skatepark portion of Regency Community Park,” Kaplan recalled. “It was there that I learned from his family and friends – that the skate park at Regency is where Tyre and his friends spent a lot of time together, skateboarding – taking pictures and enjoying their time together.”
Kaplan also announced the city’s partnership with The Skatepark Project, a non-profit founded by professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. It provides grants to build skate parks in underserved communities.
Initially, the City planned to utilize $20,000 for park improvements and upgrades, including a bronze plaque remembering Nichols. However, Kaplan has since arranged for this work to be donated and paid for by the Skatepark Project and Vans. The only feature that will be left as it was is Nichols’ favorite skate ramp.
Ben Blankenship, a local skater, said he thinks of Nichols’ family and the small sense of closure this name-change could bring.
“I’m glad they’re keeping his name alive in a place he loved,” Blankenship reflected. “I’m sure that brings some peace to the family too, to have somewhere to memorialize him and have it named after him.”
It’s the city’s policy that a person must be deceased at least a year before a space or establishment can be named after them. But the council waived that requirement on the recommendation of its park commission.
Sacramento native Adeline Canevari is happy to see Nichols honored. But she also wants city leaders to pay attention to the big picture.
“Although it’s going to be dope to see Tyre immortalized in a place he loved so much, I’m concerned that the efforts to improve the park and keep his memory alive overlook the underlying issue of what we can do as a community to protect brown and black lives,” Canevari said.
As of May 1, there had been 42 reported deaths this year nationwide by police against Black people. Between 2015 and 2023, the rate of fatal shootings by the police was 5.8 per million each year among Black people, while the next highest rate stood at Hispanics at 2.5 per million of the population per year.
“My staff and I watched the horrific video of the brutal beating of Tyre,” Kaplan said. “My heart broke at watching a man being beaten to death over a traffic stop. This is unacceptable and no one should ever lose their life because of a traffic stop – yet here I was watching it in horror.”
The name of the park isn’t the only change that will come from the death of Nichols. Memphis City Council has also passed an ordinance cited as the “Tyre Nichols Justice in Policing Ordinance.” It includes an extremely detailed guide on how police officers are to handle traffic stops and practice prioritizing the safety and comfort of the civilian.
“Going through the process of naming the skatepark after Tyre and working with like-minded individuals that believe in changing our criminal justice system – just highlighted how much further we have to go before no Brown or Black individual ever has to worry about losing their life over a traffic stop,” Kaplan went on.
There is a naming dedication and community celebration at the park this Sunday, June 11, just six days after what would have been Nichols’ 30th birthday.