In Lansing, Black lawmakers and activists demand police reform, justice for Lyoya

By: - April 22, 2022 12:49 pm

#Justice4Patrick march and rally for Patrick Lyoya in Lansing, April 21, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

The police shooting of an unarmed Black man in Grand Rapids continues to make waves across Michigan, with Black lawmakers this week calling for GOP leadership to take up long-awaited reforms and protestors gathering at the state Capitol to demand justice for Patrick Lyoya.

The 26-year-old was fatally shot in the back of the head on April 4 by a still-unnamed Grand Rapids police officer.

On Thursday afternoon, a few hundred activists held a peaceful march to Michigan’s Capitol calling for justice for Lyoya.

Protesters marched and rallied with the intent of “holding space for Patrick Lyoya and his family.” Wearing all black, activists marched about six blocks to the Capitol, sometimes in the street and blocking off traffic. They convened on the Capitol grounds as Tupac’s “Changes” played over loudspeakers.

Several rows of chairs in the audience were reserved for elders and Lyoya’s family members. Speakers included members of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Lansing and Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas. All pleaded for justice and healing, demanding that the police officer who shot Lyoya be identified and brought to justice.

On April 4, a GRPD officer pulled Lyoya over for a traffic stop. Lyoya reportedly got out of the car and started to run away. The unnamed officer deployed a taser twice, which he said did not appear to make contact with Lyoya.

After a brief struggle over possession of the taser, the officer held Lyoya face-down on the ground and fatally shot him in the back of the head.

GRPD, the Michigan State Police and the Kent County Prosecutor’s office are investigating the incident.

Grand Rapids has had several protests since the killing. Lyoya’s funeral is being held Friday.

Earlier in the week, state Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) and an emotional state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) spoke during session following the release of an independent autopsy report. 

That report concluded that the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head when he was shot, and the bullet entered about 4 inches below the top of his scalp. No other injuries were found, which the report suggested was evidence that there was no violent struggle prior to his death.

“No matter the circumstances around the reasons for the misdemeanor traffic stop, it must be reiterated that execution is not the punishment for such an infraction,” Geiss said on Tuesday. “This kind of police brutality against community members — especially Black and Brown people — is long-documented. We keep seeing it, we keep reliving the trauma, we keep nibbling around the edges of actual reform.”

As the mother of a 16-year-old son who can now drive on his own, Geiss said she is “scared for him” and for her three brothers.

My husband’s whiteness will not protect my son and for those of you in here who have blended families, Black or Brown children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or in-laws, your whiteness won’t protect them either from senseless tragedy at the hands of law enforcement.

– Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor)

“I am scared that we may be mourning one of them because an ill-trained, bias-infused, policy-defying officer may cause them harm and us trauma because there is nothing legislative in place to protect them,” she said.

“My husband’s whiteness will not protect my son and for those of you in here who have blended families, Black or Brown children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or in-laws, your whiteness won’t protect them either from senseless tragedy at the hands of law enforcement.

Geiss urged the GOP-led Legislature to consider bills that have been introduced to “address many of the issues that led to yet another unarmed Black man being inexcusably murdered at the hands of law enforcement.”

She specifically pointed to Senate Bills 473, 474, 477, 479, 480, 481, 482 and 484.

“It’s time to stop hemming and hawing and coming up with reasons and excuses why such measures are difficult,” Geiss said.

Bullock also spoke on Tuesday.

“America has a problem,” he said. “It is not a Black problem or a Brown problem. It is an American problem. Until America recognizes this problem too often rearing its ugly head through encounters with Black people and police departments, it will not be resolved.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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