In wake of Lyoya’s death, a reckoning with Grand Rapids’ history of police brutality

By: - May 7, 2022 4:42 am

A sign outside a home in Grand Rapids protesting the killing of Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, who was fatally shot in the head by a Grand Rapids police officer. | Allison R. Donahue

The day before Grand Rapids officials released the video of Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Christopher Schurr shooting and killing Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old unarmed Black man, police began erecting concrete barricades around the department’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids. 

The barriers, a police spokeswoman said at the time, were a “precaution” as police prepared for protesters planning to march through the city’s downtown streets, ending at the April 12 city commission meeting.

But to community members reeling in the wake of another white police officer shooting and killing an unarmed Black man in the United States — this time in Grand Rapids — the barricades were a metaphor for a police department that has long distanced itself from the community and treats itself as an untouchable island of blue in the city it’s charged with protecting. 

Residents — who for years have pushed for overhauling a department marred by a long history of violent interactions with residents and documentation of racial biases — said the concrete barriers felt like a message that the police department cares more about its property than communicating with a public deeply angered and saddened after Lyoya’s death on April 4.

“The barricades — why don’t they have the same energy for the citizens that reside in this city?” asked LaDonna Norman, who co-founded Together We Are Safe, a group that works to address issues around policing and housing in Grand Rapids.

“I see people — a lot of white people — justifying [an officer killing Lyoya] because it’s the police,” Norman continued. “What are they policing? Who are they making safe? Because you’re talking about a police department that’s had years and years of problems happening. They’re so out of touch with the community.”

Grand Rapids Police Department on April 12, 2022 with barricades in front of the entrance, anticipating protests after a GRPD officer fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man, Patrick Lyoya, in the head. | Allison R. Donahue

‘Patrick should be alive today’

In the nearly two years since a white Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, prompting widespread protests against police brutality in a country reckoning with the collision of white supremacy and law enforcement, some change has come to Grand Rapids Police Department, city leaders said in interviews with the Advance. 

The city, for example, created an entirely new office — the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability — specifically to scrutinize and improve police practices. And the department’s new police chief — Chief Eric Winstrom, who started his job in Grand Rapids on March 7 after working for about 20 years in the Chicago Police Department — vowed that further reforms are on the horizon and said one of his biggest goals is to build, or rebuild, bridges with the community.

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. | Allison R. Donahue

“I’m reform-minded,” Winstrom said. “Twenty, 30 years ago, police were in a place of, ‘I know what’s best; I’m going to lock up this drug addict.’ But in 2022, it’s getting to a point where our role is to police the city of Grand Rapids in the way the city wants us to police. We have to do policing how the community wants that done.”

But for some civil rights advocates in the city, Winstrom’s words are too little, too late. Norman, Royal Black Panther Party of Grand Rapids Chair Aly — who asked that her last name not be used out of fear of police retaliating against her — and members of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP and the ACLU of Michigan, among others, said they have for years called on the city to make extensive reforms within the police department before an officer killed someone. 

Instead, they said, necessary reforms were not implemented, and Schurr shot and killed Lyoya, a father of two young children and a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who lived in Kentwood and worked a factory job in Grand Rapids.

“Us local activists, we’ve been preparing for something like this to happen,” Aly said. “We’ve been telling city commissioners, officials that the Grand Rapids Police Department is going to kill someone and it’s going to be a big deal. We’ve been pushing for changes so Patrick’s murder would not have taken place. Our efforts have not worked so far.”

According to the ACLU of Michigan, the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, academics, and anti-police brutality advocates in Grand Rapids, among others, Lyoya died at the hands of an officer from a police department entrenched in a long history of racism and violence. And it is the fact that the city has not heeded these calls for change that led to Lyoya’s death, they said. 

“This is a death that was predictable and preventable,” said Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “It is coming out of a department that has a long history of violent responses to non-violent situations, of excessive uses of force against people of color in this community, including children. This is a department that there’s not been accountable or transparency about situations in the past. People in the community knew this was coming, and, tragically, it has.

“Without systemic reform, this won’t be the last death,” Aukerman continued. “We need to change that, and that will require real, significant, transformative change. It means thinking about what true public safety means. Why do we deal with license plate issues with an officer with a gun? Why do we handle mental health issues with officers with guns?”

From members of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP to local residents marching outside the police department and Rev. Al Sharpton — who delivered the eulogy at Lyoya’s funeral — a group of people from across the country have voiced that, two years after the deaths of Floyd and Taylor sparked worldwide protests against police brutality, the current policing system is still deeply failing people of color nationally, in Michigan and specifically in Grand Rapids. 

Many of those interviewed by the Advance for this story noted that, despite the Grand Rapids city government paying for studies of the department’s racial biases — including one from 2017 that reported Black motorists were twice as likely as white drivers to be pulled over in Grand Rapids — and years of community members calling for major changes within a Grand Rapids Police Department, as well as some actual reforms in the department, an officer still killed an unarmed Black citizen during a traffic stop.

“Patrick should be alive today,” Aukerman said. “His death reflects a culture of policing in Grand Rapids and nationwide in which there’s just such systemic indifference to Black lives. …There’s a violent response to as simple an issue as an issue with a license plate. We need to change that culture. We need to change how we think about policing so there’s true public safety for everyone in our community. Patrick should be alive, and if we had a different culture and a different response to public safety and policing, he would be alive.”

Funeral for Patrick Lyoya on April 22, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

A history of police brutality in Grand Rapids

Todd Robinson, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the author of “A City Within A City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” said Lyoya’s death was “not shocking in a national or historical context.” 

Brutal police tactics and the frequent fatal shootings of unarmed Black men and women reflect the deep interrelated history of systemic racism and the over-policing of Black bodies,” Robinson wrote in an email. “Reckoning with the tragic shooting of Patrick Lyoya requires understanding the complex history of ‘managerial racism’ far too often overlooked in secondary cities such as Grand Rapids.”

In other words, Robinson said, the history of racism within the Grand Rapids Police Department is rooted in a larger web of institutionalized racism in the city. Robinson noted that a Klu Klux Klan “club” was established at former President Gerald R. Ford’s alma mater, Grand Rapids’ South High School, in the 1920s. The KKK also held a march on July 4, 1925 — an event protected by police as some 3,000 KKK members and supporters marched in the city.

“Indeed, public acts of discrimination remained commonplace until ‘progressive’ Republicans transformed the city’s image to better fit the ‘midwest nice’ descriptor of the nation’s most congenial location during the 1940s,” Robinson wrote. “However, the new progressive imagery permitted racism to hide in plain sight for decades, as white business leaders and city officials avoided conflict and instead used ‘managerial racism’ to highlight their apparent willingness to study race relations while never sufficiently resolving any issues.”

In 1949, 1960 and 1981, for example, Grand Rapids would receive the National Civic League’s “All American City” awards “while maintaining a thoroughly racialized landscape through redlining, discriminatory lending policies, and racial steering,” Robinson said. “These practices further widened the wealth, housing, educational, and social gap between white and Black residents. Keeping Grand Rapids hyper-segregated … required over-policing predominately Black enclaves for decades to preserve ‘white suburban space.’”

Patrick should be alive today. His death reflects a culture of policing in Grand Rapids and nationwide in which there’s just such systemic indifference to Black lives.

– Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan

While white leaders attempted to “deny the validity of Black complaints” about civil rights violations in Grand Rapids, Robinson said the city “reached a tipping point in 1967.” At that time, police used excessive force against a Black youth during a traffic stop — which was followed by a mass influx of law enforcement and police arresting about 180 Black individuals.  

“The arrests did nothing to address African Americans’ concerns regarding the entangled histories of race, poverty, and segregation,” Robinson said. “It did, however, further the over-policing of Black neighborhoods and deepened systemic inequities and implicit biases within the local white community. So, indeed, today’s problems are a result of the constant neglect of discriminatory issues that emerged decades ago.”

More recent policing issues in Grand Rapids have been rooted in “racial profiling, over-policing and police brutality in the wake of gentrification,” said Robinson, who noted that Grand Rapids in 2015 was named one of the worst cities in the country for Black residents. 

Currently in Grand Rapids, white residents have a median income nearly double that of Black residents: $63,256 compared to $34,343. And while the city’s population has soared by about 6% over the past decade, the number of Black residents — who make up nearly one-fifth of Grand Rapids’ population — fell by about 3.7% over the same time period. Community leaders attribute that in part to Black individuals historically being denied loans to purchase homes, leaving Black renters to be pushed out of longtime homes in the wake of gentrification and skyrocketing rental prices. 

“In the past five years, the rising number of Black youth held at gunpoint, frisked, and detained by local white officers offered warning signs, as did the long history of over-policing Black bodies in the city,” Robinson said. “Unfortunately, much like the structural warning signs of the past, the recent incidents continue to provide evidence of a flawed system shaped by historical racial, economic, and social inequities. The former and present policing system continues to devalue Black bodies, and tragically the fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya is yet another Black life, taken too soon, that lays bare the manifestation of institutional and implicit biases in America.”

In an email sent to the Advance, the ACLU of Michigan detailed the more recent incidents of police brutality in Grand Rapids, including: 

June 2014: A Black 15-year-old is badly beaten and bludgeoned with a  flashlight by a GRPD officer

April 2015: The ACLU sued the GRPD over its “no trespass  letter” program that justified arrests for criminal trespassing on commercial property and targeted people like Jacob Manyong, an  African immigrant arrested and charged with trespassing after his car “entered a business parking lot for several seconds as he pulled out of an adjacent public parking lot,” the ACLU wrote.

Between 2011 and 2013, the GRPD either cited or arrested approximately 560 people for trespassing on business property, and, in a city where Black individuals make up about 20% of the population, 59% of those detained for trespassing were Black.

A U.S. district judge ruled the trespassing policy to be unconstitutional, and in 2019 the city ended up paying the ACLU of Michigan $225,000 as a result of its lawsuit over the policy.

September 2015: GRPD officers responding to noise complaints at a large  house party forcibly arrested the host and eight others, all of whom were Black residents. One individual was tasered. Six of the nine people arrested filed excessive force complaints with the GRPD.

March 2017: GRPD officers ordered a group of five unarmed boys, ages 12 to 15 years old, to the ground and pointed guns at them. Police said they had received a tip that someone in a group matching the boys’ description had a gun. Not one of the boys did.

April 2017: A study of the GRPD finds Black drivers are more than twice as likely to be stopped by the GRPD than white drivers. [At that time, Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack — who has spearheaded efforts to bring attention to Lyoya’s death — said, “After all these years that African Americans and people of color have been saying there’s racial profiling, what is the city of Grand Rapids going to tell people who’ve been saying this for the last 40, 50 years?”]

December 2017: A GRPD officer pointed a gun at and handcuffed an 11-year-old unarmed Black girl.

August 2018: At  least six GRPD patrol cars and as many officers handcuffed unarmed 11-year-old twins and a 17-year-old, all Black boys, at gunpoint after receiving a report that Black teenagers were walking around with a gun. Police found no gun. 

September 2018: A GRPD officer shot at a Black 14-year-old boy playing with a BB gun. The boy was not physically hurt.

October 2018: A GRPD officer handcuffed an unarmed 12-year-old Black girl at gunpoint and patted down an unarmed 10-year-old Black boy. The police were responding to a report of a shooting; they found no weapons nor located a shooting victim. The police chief at the time, David Rahinsky, called the department’s response “appropriate.”

November 2018: A GRPD police captain calls U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran who authorities arrested and attempted to deport despite Ramos-Gomez having his U.S. passport on him.

March 2019: Two Latino teens were held at gunpoint by a GRPD officer after they jaywalked.

Also, a Grand Rapids police officer punched a man about 30 times following a traffic stop. The city of Grand Rapids paid $125,000 to the victim. This incident led to the state’s Department of Civil Rights opening an investigation into the GRPD. The department confirmed that it is continuing to investigate 29 complaints of discrimination filed against the GRPD.

September 2019: A court ruled that records from a secret GRPD phone line — which officers believed was not being recorded — were subject to public records requests. Instead of releasing those records, city administrators erased them.

March 2021: After police pulled over a vehicle for littering, a GRPD officer repeatedly punched the Black driver in the face  and told him, “you’re lucky you didn’t get killed.”

November 2021: The Michigan Supreme Court hears a case challenging the GRPD’s “photograph and print” program, under which the police fingerprinted two Black teenagers who were not charged with crimes. According to testimony given to the Supreme Court, 75% of officer-initiated encounters in this program involved Black people. A decision on the case is pending.

March 2022: A pregnant woman pleads with about a half dozen GRPD officers to stop pointing their guns in front of her house after they pursued her boyfriend for driving without a license plate on his car. Both individuals are Black.

April 2022: On April 4, Schurr pulled Lyoya — a father of two who moved to Michigan in 2014 as a refugee from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo — over for allegedly driving with an unregistered license plate. After being stopped by the officer, Lyoya, according to videos later shown to the public, got out of his car near the intersection of Griggs Street SE and Nelson Avenue SE and appeared confused as to why he was being pulled over.

Of all the moments in Lyoya’s life, the minutes after he is pulled over are the ones the world now knows. 

Video from the officer’s body-worn camera, an in-car camera, a home surveillance system, and a cell phone recording — which the Grand Rapids police chief and city officials played for the public on April 13 — piece together the final moments of Lyoya’s life, which included Schurr, who was patrolling alone, chasing Lyoya after Lyoya ran from the officer, using a Taser on him twice (the maximum number of times that specific model of Taser can be used, according to the Lyoya family’s lawyers), pinning him to the ground, and, as confirmed by an independent autopsy, shooting him in the back of the head. 

Lyoya was unarmed.

“There is no way to spin it or justify it; it is an unjustifiable use of deadly force,” said the Lyoya family’s attorney Ben Crump, who previously represented George Floyd’s family and Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who has been present at recent press conferences and Grand Rapids protests against police brutality. 

Floyd was a Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer after a grocery store clerk called 911 to report he believed Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill. Taylor, a Black woman and Grand Rapids native who, like Lyoya, was 26 years old, was fatally shot by police executing a no-knock search warrant. Taylor had committed no crime.

Throughout these years, the city has conducted numerous studies [including one on racial biases and traffic stops in 2017 and another on GRPD staffing in 2019] and held community engagement forums to gather suggestions for reforms — but not enough of the suggestions from the studies or forums were implemented, according to Equity PAC, a political action committee made up of hundreds of Grand Rapids residents. The PAC formed after the City Commission decided during a closed session to place 65 rifles in police cruises, enraging community members.

Following Lyoya’s death, Equity PAC members noted that after the police held five unarmed Black boys at gunpoint while they were walking home from playing basketball, community engagement sessions were held, a new Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force was created, and the police chief (then Rahinsky) vowed to fully implement all reforms laid out in a “12 point plan” that was created in 2015. 

A few years later, in the wake of an officer murdering Floyd, the department created the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability.

“These actions had one goal, reform the GRPD and change its culture before someone wound up dead,” the Equity PAC wrote. “Yet as the tragic events of April 4th have shown us, they all failed.”

Systemic reform takes more than a checklist approach,” the Equity PAC continued. “It takes more than studies, words, and good intentions. It requires not only vision, but true leadership, commitment to change, and above all else, accountability. That’s something we simply haven’t had too much of in this city.”

‘We have to acknowledge white supremacy as a nation’

In the month since Schurr killed Lyoya, the conversations about the 26-year-old’s death have often been rooted in the United States’ history of racism, with slavery and lynching often being evoked. 

“I did not know there is a genocide happening in the United States,” Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas Lyoya, said of police killings of Black Americans during a press conference.

In Lyoya’s death are the echoes of unarmed Black men and women killed by police, often after committing no offenses or minor, non-violent offenses — people like Taylor, Floyd, and Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. 

“From the time we come to this country, the United States of America, which we call home, we’ve been begging you just to let us live,” Womack, a Kent County commissioner, said at a press conference held just after the city released the videos of Lyoya’s death on April 13. “We’ve been asking you to let us breathe. [Congress] just passed the anti-lynching bill into law. Does it take a law for humanity to understand that certain marginalized communities don’t deserve to be lynched, shot or executed?”

In light of this history, civil rights advocates and community residents said they want to see Schurr — who’s currently on paid leave — held accountable for Lyoya’s death, but they emphasized they want far more than that. 

What are they policing? Who are they making safe? Because you’re talking about a police department that’s had years and years of problems happening. They’re so out of touch with the community.

– LaDonna Norman, co-founder of Together We Are Safe, a group that works to address issues around policing and housing in Grand Rapids

They want an overhaul of a policing system that is rooted in slavery (Southern “slave patrols” that formed to ensure Black enslaved people would not escape evolved into police departments, and the FBI has warned that white supremacists often have “active links” to law enforcement) and results in what Robyn McCoy, president of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, called “genocide by cop for Black people” during a recent press conference about Lyoya’s death.

“We have to acknowledge white supremacy as a nation,” said Brandon Davis, the director of the city of Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, which was created in part to oversee reform of the police department. “It not only exists, but it is spread throughout our systems of government. … Police were designed to be a slave patrol. The issues that come from that are embedded in our criminal justice system. We’ve got to call a spade a spade.

“If you talk about any type of addiction, the first thing is to admit the addiction exists,” Davis continued. “That’s where we are as a nation. People are starting to admit this [white supremacy] exists.”

In the United States, Black Americans make up 13% of the country’s population but accounted for 27% of those killed by police in 2021, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit organization that tracks police killings. 

Since 2015, police have killed 1,595 Black individuals, according to data collected by the Washington Post. Traffic stops have been particularly deadly, and a New York Times investigation from October 2021 found police officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding weapons and were not under pursuit for a violent crime. Of the police involved in those killings, five have been convicted of crimes, the Times reported. Black drivers were “overrepresented among those killed,” the Times wrote.

“Policing has only been useful for rich, white people,” said Aly, of the Royal Black Panther Party of Grand Rapids. who asked that her last name not be used out of fear that police would retaliate against her. “We need to help people get housing, not throw someone in jail for not having somewhere to sleep at night. We need to help people battle their chemical addictions, not throw someone in jail for having a chemical dependency. That doesn’t lower the crime rate.”

Norman, of Together We Are Safe, also emphasized that tax dollars should go to providing an improved social support system.

“That money could go to job training, to childcare,” she said. “We have single parents in households; what can we do to support those single parents? Right now, kids are watching themselves because rent is through the f–king roof, and what is the mom going to do? She doesn’t have resources. Put the prevention work in, and you don’t have to have a police department.”

Patrick Lyoya’s family weeps as they leave his funeral on April 22, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

‘Addressing the elephant in the room’

In the wake of Lyoya’s death, Carlton T. Mayers, II, a policing reform advisor for the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP and a national policing reform expert, said the GRPD must implement what the NAACP has long been calling for: community members to be directly involved in the police department’s trainings for officers and policymaking. 

Specifically, Mayers said the voices of the community members most negatively impacted by policing — including Black and Brown residents, immigrants and refugees — must be an integral part of training and policymaking.

“Make sure those community members are in the mandatory trainings: cultural sensitivity trainings, use of force trainings, firearms trainings, crisis intervention techniques,” Mayers said. “We want community members to be in all trainings.”

Had more community members been directly involved in past police training, Mayers said residents would have likely addressed the over-policing of Black and Brown neighborhoods, racial biases among officers, racial profiling and more.

“The whole point is you’re addressing the elephant in the room: You’re addressing the racism, the implicit and explicit biases, and all of this is being done proactively rather than reactively,” Mayers said. “That’s what we had proposed a year ago. [The GRPD] never adopted that in their strategic plan.”

One question the police department needs to immediately address, Mayers said, is why the officer was patrolling a majority Black neighborhood with a license plate reader on the morning that he shot and killed Lyoya.

“Why did the officer even pull Patrick over in the first place?” Mayers asked. “We first have to talk about why did this stop even happen? When I speak with most law enforcement, every single one says the same thing: Why would this officer pull this guy over for having bad plates? You can get a picture of that and send it to their address with a fine.

“And why was that officer patrolling that neighborhood at that time of day?” Mayers continued. “He was in a predominantly Black community with surveillance technology. Why are you doing that in a predominantly Black and marginalized community?”

We have to acknowledge white supremacy as a nation. It not only exists, but it is spread throughout our systems of government. … Police were designed to be a slave patrol. The issues that come from that are embedded in our criminal justice system.

– Brandon Davis, director of the city of Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability

Winstrom said he does not yet have an answer as to why Schurr was using a license plate reader in that specific location on a Monday morning, but said the state police’s investigation should provide those answers. 

The state police sent a portion of their investigation into the shooting to the Kent County prosecutor’s office last week, and the investigation is ongoing. The new police chief, however, did say that the “city has the right to be policed the way they want to be policed.”

“If the Third Ward said they feel there are too many cops down there, I wouldn’t say, ‘No there’s not,’” Winstrom said of the area in Southeast Grand Rapids where Lyoya died.

“We can’t be an occupying army,” Winstrom continued. “If that’s really how the community felt, that would need to be adjusted. … However, I’ve also sat through many meetings in the community and talked to dozens, if not hundreds, of people in neighborhood groups. They want to see more police, but good policing. They want community police.”

City Manager Mark Washington said the matter of over-policing is “complicated.”

“There are parts of our community who want police presence because they’re experiencing safety issues, and they want the police there to protect them but they don’t want a police presence that makes them feel unsafe,” Washington said. “Unfortunately, there has historically been an over presence of police for various reasons. As an African-American city manager and a person in public policy, I can appreciate the need to make change in a way that people feel safe when police officers are around.”

One such way to foster that safety, Washington said, is for “law enforcement to learn to trust community members and not expect the worst of every encounter.”

Maria Gomez-Velasquez holds up a photo of her son, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a Marine Corps veteran who authorities arrested and attempted to deport despite Ramos-Gomez having his U.S. passport on him, at an ACLU press conference, Nov. 20, 2019 | Nick Manes

Winstrom too said that he plans to do a review of the department’s trainings and said “enhanced deescalation training” is on the horizon, as is additional cultural sensitivity training — potentially included trainings led by refugees. 

“Police departments have always been good at training for things like shooting but not always so good at thinking, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques,” Winstrom said. “When I was a new officer back in 2000, you had marching orders to go out and when you see somebody doing something wrong you get your handcuffs on them as soon as possible. Now it’s more about de-escalation.”

For state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), a former prosecutor, there are two main reforms “that would help prevent future tragedies.” The first, he said, would be to “not have single officer apprehensions if at all possible.” Schurr was patrolling alone when he pulled Lyoya over. Winstrom said at a recent press conference that, following Lyoya’s death, the department has worked to ensure that there are two officers per cruiser.

Second, LaGrand said, is to “shift our policy towards pursuit of nonviolent misdemeanors.” 

“At its heart, one could argue a bad license is a financial crime,” said LaGrand, who noted that other cities have implemented policies that bar officers from pursuing people for various nonviolent misdemeanors in order to prevent arrests over minor matters from escalating — as happened with Lyoya.

State Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said she hopes Michigan lawmakers will act on a bipartisan police reform bill package that was introduced in May 2021 — on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. Since then, the bills have languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The legislation includes proposals to ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, hold officers accountable for turning off body cameras (Schurr’s body camera was turned off for part of his interaction with Lyoya, though it hasn’t been determined how that occurred), and create independent investigations for police misconduct, among other initiatives.

Brinks also advocates increasing public safety resources.

“If there had been two officers in [Schurr’s car], things might have gone differently,” she said. “I’d like to see us invest in better police and in better training, better ongoing training, mental health supports that police officers are required to participate in.

“I’m not one that believes we should take resources away from this equation, but they do need to be spent differently,” Brinks added.

Mayers noted the NAACP too is not calling to defund the police, saying that’s “never going to happen.”

Instead of fighting to defund the police, Mayers said Grand Rapids’ NAACP chapter is pushing to have more community members involved in police trainings and policymaking, the GRPD to “establish a comprehensive foot pursuit policy,” the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability to conduct an audit of the GRPD’s use of license plate readers and the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability to do an audit of the deactivation of Schurr’s body camera during Lyoya’s shooting. 

The group also wants the city to pass an ordinance that would prohibit GRPD officers from initiating traffic stops for minor infractions, “such as the one related to Patrick’s shooting.”

Protest on April 12, 2022 after a GRPD officer fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man, Patrick Lyoya, in the head. | Allison R. Donahue

‘He had everything to keep Patrick alive’

Banza Mukalay is the pastor at Restoration Community Church in Grandville, which Lyoya had attended. Like Lyoya, he is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mukalay said Lyoya’s death has left the Congolese refugee community feeling shattered and frightened. It will, he said, be imperative that police mend relations with refugees — the greater Grand Rapids area has long been home to a growing African diaspora, including about 8,000 Congolese refugees.

“When we see something like this happening, you say, ‘How will we survive in this country?” Mukalay said.

Mukalay, who knew Lyoya in his role as the pastor of the church located just outside of Grand Rapids, said he’s not sure exactly what police reforms are needed, but he knows there are now deep fractures between police and refugees.

“[Schurr] had everything to keep Patrick alive,” Mukalay said. “He could have let him go; he had [Lyoya’s] car right there.” 

Lyoya’s death has left “everybody in our community very sad.” 

“It’s a tragedy for the whole community; Patrick was very young, and he had a lot of things ahead of him,” Mukalay said. “As a parent, I was not just sad but so scared. …For all of us, we came here as refugees. We spent a long time looking for where we can be safe and be free. We were looking for freedom and how to continue our lives. We left our country and looked for where we can survive, so we are very sensitive when we see something like that [Lyoya’s death].

“For refugees, we are here not to harm this country,” Mukalay continued. “We are seeking peace and safety and life. That is refugees. I can say this is very, very sad for our community, and everybody is asking questions. How do we be safe?”

From the time we come to this country, the United States of America, which we call home, we’ve been begging you just to let us live. We’ve been asking you to let us breathe. (Congress) just passed the anti-lynching bill into law. Does it take a law for humanity to understand that certain marginalized communities don’t deserve to be lynched, shot or executed?

– Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack

It’s not just in Grand Rapids that refugees feel deeply worried about their safety after Lyoya’s death, the pastor said. 

“I can say all refugees in the United States are feeling the way I’m feeling right now,” he said. 

Marcia Elders, a reverend and officer manager at Thrive, a refugee support program in the greater Grand Rapids area, said people around the globe have learned that a police officer killed Lyoya.

“Word has gotten to Africa about this, to people there who know Patrick,” she said. “There are conversations happening across the world about this. That’s very sad.”

Now, Elders said, she’s hoping for Lyoya’s “life to be honored and remembered, and the policeman and investigation [into the shooting] are held to account.”

David Apol, a board member for Thrive, said those working with refugees in the greater Grand Rapids area have long told them that “police are good people” and are there to support them. Lyoya’s death, he said, deeply changes that.

“This is the first time we’ve heard in all the years we’ve been working with refugees that something like this has happened,” Apol said. “It’s just devastating.”

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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