‘A moment that feels all too sickeningly familiar’

Activists, state leaders react to news of Grand Rapids officer fatally shooting Lyoya

By: - April 14, 2022 12:29 pm

A memorial for Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year old Black man who was fatally shot in the head by a GRPD officer. | Allison R. Donahue

After the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) released Wednesday several videos showing an unnamed officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black immigrant, on April 4, state leaders and activists have shared their condolences and calls for change. 

“Patrick Lyoya immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pursue the American Dream and provide a better and safer life for himself and his family. Instead, what found him was a fatal bullet to the back of the head, delivered by an officer of the Grand Rapids Police Department,” said national Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, who was the attorney for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and is now working with the Lyoya family. 

“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Crump said in a statement Wednesday. “It should be noted that Patrick never used violence against this officer even though the officer used violence against him in several instances for what was a misdemeanor traffic stop. We demand that the officer who killed Patrick not only be terminated for his use of excessive and fatal force, but be arrested and prosecuted for the violent killing of Patrick Lyoya.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist | Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday that she and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist spoke with Lyoya’s family. 

“Our hearts are with them and the Grand Rapids community who are dealing with unimaginable pain and loss,” Whitmer said. “Patrick was 26. He arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family fleeing violence. He had his whole life ahead of him. Patrick was a son, a dad of two young daughters, and an older brother to his five siblings.”

Whitmer said Lyoya’s father asked her to convey his hope that any demonstrations in his son’s honor remain peaceful.

“And as Governor I share this view,” Whitmer said. “We must come together and build a future where Black Michiganders are afforded equal rights, dignity and safety in our communities. I will never stop fighting to make Michigan a more equitable and just state.”

Gilchrist, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, said the death of Lyoya is a “moment that feels all too sickeningly familiar.”

“I am heartbroken by what we all have witnessed as a father, public servant, and a Black man,” Gilchrist said. “People are frustrated and hurting — searching for answers. Black people in Grand Rapids, in Michigan, and across the country are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from generations of struggle. Yet we press on. When we demonstrate and make our voices heard, we must do so in a way that lifts our call for justice beyond the deepening pain of this community.”

Both Gilchrist and Whitmer called for a thorough investigation into the killing. The incident is being investigated by the Michigan State Police, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and an internal investigation through the GRPD.

Most statements regarding Lyoya’s killing have been from Democratic leaders and activists across the state, but a few GOP gubernatorial candidates have also commented on the incident. 

James Craig, the former Detroit Police Department chief running for governor as a Republican, said despite not having all the facts, “I do have some concerns.”

“I’ve addressed many deadly force incidents throughout my tenure as chief of three police departments. When an officer is faced with an imminent threat to his life or another person, deadly force may be the only option,” Craig said. 

Prior to shooting Lyoya, the officer — whose name has not been released — deployed a taser twice, but the taser never made contact with Lyoya, according to GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom.

“My core concern will always be whether there was an imminent threat to the officer’s life after the taser deployment,” Craig said. 

GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon at Former President Donald Trump rally in Washington Twp. on April 2, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Another GOP gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, released a statement saying she stands “unequivocally with the police officer and our law enforcement officers in general” and will not “let this officer … be sandbagged for reasonably protecting themselves.”

“Gov. Whitmer and her party have predictably taken the side of the criminal. I would expect nothing less than from the ‘Defund the Police’ party,” Dixon said. “Far more shamefully, though, even my Republican opponents are cowering in fear, issuing mealy-mouthed ‘let’s wait and see’ statements and hoping this all blows over. I am not afraid.”

Dixon said anyone who wants “to commit crimes and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in blue” can “head on down to Chicago or wherever doesn’t care if you hurt or kill people.”

However, the vast majority of officials expressed their condolences for Lyoya’s family and calls for a thorough investigation of the incident.

Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) said the officer who killed Lyola needs to be arrested. 

“Every time I leave the house, anyone who loves me tells me to be safe, because they know death comes swiftly for young Black men, especially when interacting with the police,” said Hollier. “This officer should not be put on administrative leave pending an investigation. We saw what happened. It’s time to send him to jail like we would with any other person who murdered someone in a neighborhood on camera.”

Winstrom said during a press conference Wednesday the unnamed officer is on paid leave until the conclusion of the investigation. 

Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement Wednesday that she is “outraged and heartbroken” by Lyoya’s death.  

“Our community is rightfully demanding an accurate and full investigation. I urge all involved to proceed transparently and with sensitivity to the urgency and pain our community is feeling,” Brinks said. “Finally, we must work toward effective public safety that serves everyone in our communities so tragedies like these do not continue to happen.”

Another Democratic Grand Rapids lawmaker, Rep. David LaGrand, called for “consequences for wrongs.”

Another GOP gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, released a statement saying she stands 'unequivocally with the police officer and our law enforcement officers in general' and will not 'let this officer … be sandbagged for reasonably protecting themselves.'

“For all the focus on justice that has happened in our nation and our community in recent years, another young Black man is dead, and our community cries out for answers, and for justice,” LaGrand said. “We need justice in our community, but Patrick’s family needs Patrick back, something none of us can give them. Justice demands consequences for wrongs, and our community needs confidence that justice will be served in this case, and confidence that justice will be done in openness. … When an individual does wrong, there have to be consequences, and when systems are wrong we need to fix those systems, to prevent new tragedies.”

Loren Khogali, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, shared a list of demands for GRPD and the city in a statement Wednesday. The demands include naming the officer who shot and killed Lyoya, assigning a prosecutor from outside of Kent County who does not work regularly with the GRPD, launching a federal investigation into this killing and the history and culture of the GRPD. 

The ACLU also calls for the community to be allowed a seat at the table in the ongoing negotiations over the GRPD police union contracts, the Civilian Appeal Board and the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability be given the authority, resources and funding to provide civilian oversight and the city officials and GRPD allow all people to protest without violence, threats or intimidation. 

Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom during a press conference on April 13, 2022 to release videos showing a GRPD officer fatally shooting a 26-year-old Black man, Patrick Lyoya, in the head.

“The brutal and senseless death of Patrick Lyoya is the result of a police interaction that unnecessarily escalated to violence, the reflection of a policing culture that relies on enforcement and tolerates violent responses to nonviolent situations,” said Khogali. “The community waited nine days for the release of this horrific video showing the death of Patrick Lyoya at the hands of a GRPD officer. The video evidence raises more questions, and the city must be absolutely transparent throughout this investigation.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel said has “every expectation” that the GRPD  will fully cooperate with the Michigan State Police in their investigation and that the local prosecutor will perform a thorough analysis of the facts.

“As always, the Department of Attorney General is available to provide assistance to the county prosecutor, in the event Mr. Becker determines the expertise of my department is warranted,” Nessel said. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel shared the following statement Wednesday following the release of video showing the police-involved shooting death of Patrick Lyoya:

“I have every expectation that the Grand Rapids Police Department will fully cooperate with the Michigan State Police in their investigation and that the local prosecutor will perform a thorough analysis of the facts of law that apply in this case. As always, the Department of Attorney General is available to provide assistance to the county prosecutor, in the event Mr. Becker determines the expertise of my department is warranted.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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