Bodycam footage images of the traffic stop that resulted in the shooting death of Patrick Lyoya April 4. Photos: MGN Online

Family, friends and supporters of Patrick Lyoya continue protesting for justice after his killing by a White Grand Rapids police officer on the city’s Southeast Side, after a traffic stop for an alleged license tag violation.

A little more than two months after the fatal encounter, tensions remain high between the local political establishment, protesters demanding accountability, and an increasingly angered Black community over what witnesses called a blatant execution-style killing of an unarmed Mr. Lyoya, 26, the eldest son of Congolese refugees who fled a rebel insurgency to seek asylum in the United States in 2014.

The officer, now identified as Christopher Schurr by the police chief, was captured on video shooting Mr. Lyoya in the back of his head, as the policeman pinned him face-down, while kneeling on Patrick’s back and legs.

“The police have been taught that they have the right to kill a person if the person can make them fear for their life,” said Robert S. Womack, Kent County Commissioner of the 17th District in Grand Rapids. “The way they’re trying to come into the urban areas is on the total defense, so all it takes is a wrong tag on the car and for a Black man to try to get away (and) for an officer to say: ‘I fear for my life,’ climb up on the back of the Black man, shoot him in the back of the head, and have the police union come out publicly and try to justify it. But when they see a White man, with an assault weapon, nobody fears for their life,” Commissioner Womack added.


Drawing a comparison between the killing of an unarmed Black man in Grand Rapids, Michigan, over an alleged automobile license tag infraction, and the nonviolent arrest of a heavily armed White nationalist, who allegedly gunned down 10 Black shoppers in an act of racial terrorism in Buffalo, New York, Commissioner Womack told The Final Call that the killing of unarmed Blacks by White police officers reveals more than meets the eye, including double standards regarding the use of lethal force.

“Here in Kent County, they pulled over a man in an affluent area,” Commissioner Womack said of an April 29 firearm discharge incident that injured sheriff’s detective during the apprehension of a Grand Rapids murder suspect. “They grabbed (his) rifle and it went off and shot the (detective) in their hand and they still did not kill the man. The point is, it wasn’t a Black man,” he said.

Student Minister Sultan Z. Muhammad, the Grand Rapids representative of the Nation of Islam, and the city’s local study group coordinator under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, said since Mr. Lyoya’s funeral, multiple efforts have been made by the police union, and White media, to put Officer Schurr in a favorable light to combat several weeks of protests depicting him as a killer.

He told The Final Call that a picture of the officer helping a Black man in Kenya, and an article about him being a former college athlete have been public relations tactics designed to clean up Mr. Schurr’s image.

“But there has not been any effort to produce images or a story for Patrick Lyoya in the same manner,” Student Minister Muhammad explained. “The prosecutor, Mr. Becker, has come out with statements asking the community to be patient as he seeks outside assistance in terms of determining whether charges should be placed against the officer, and there are articles saying outside prosecutors are calling it a close call,” the student minister said.

Christopher Becker serves as the Kent County prosecutor.

“There’s a feeling in the community that (local government) is gently trying to take steps toward not laying any charges on Mr. Schurr, and there has been so much whitewashing that those in the community (say) there’s a game being played that (seeks) to let him off the hook,” added Student Minister Muhammad.

A cover up revisited?

According to Commissioner Womack, misconduct and corruption is nothing new in Grand Rapids’ city politics, and he questions the legitimacy of the investigations surrounding Mr. Lyoya’s killing. Referring to a 2016 audio recording, given to The Final Call, purportedly between a well-connected former Grand Rapids Police Department lieutenant, fired for covering up a drunk driving-related accident by former Kent County Prosecutor, Josh Kuiper.

Mr. Womack said it demonstrates the police department’s potential to unlawfully influence prosecutorial investigations and that it constitutes a bad look. He also stated the fired police lieutenant is the husband of Kent County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Monica Janiskee, who is part of the Lyoya investigation and that it is only proper she recuse herself from the case.

Demands for accountability over the killing of Lyoya have led to loud and vocal protests both in the streets and in city hall, causing the shutdown of city council meetings and the barricading of the downtown police station on more than one occasion. According to activists and their families, this has also led to harassment and retaliation against protest leaders and their families.

Protest leader Jakari Richardson, 19, was arrested while driving to a city hall meeting to voice demands for substantive police reforms. His mother, a stage-four cancer patient, who preferred her name to be withheld, told The Final Call that police followed her son and arrested him on what she believes to be trumped-up charges and said a covert effort exists to silence the Black community through the political control of narratives around the killing and the protests.

“The police called and said: ‘You need to come pick up this car,’ but one of the other members of the group he was with said they had guns pulled out on Jakari and somebody needs to go get his car,” his mother said of the incident leading to that life-threatening arrest.

“From my understanding, (it began) when they were manhandling one of the (women) in his movement and an officer pushed up on him and he kind of like pushed the officer back. I don’t know exactly what happened, because he was at the courthouse until she got bailed out,” Mr. Richardson’s mother said.

Stating that the local establishment and some Black political leaders have agreed to sweep the killing of Mr. Lyoya under the rug in the name of expediency, Student Minister Muhammad said the compromising of Black leadership around matters of life-and-death exposes not only a profound lack of credibility on their part, but also an unwillingness and inability to govern in the face of what many are calling the tyranny of the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“From all of those who are trying to make sure that justice comes about for Patrick Lyoya and his family, there’s a sense that they are being betrayed and there’s a general feeling that mischief is taking place to try to say that Mr. Schurr’s killing of Patrick Lyoya was justified,” Mr. Muhammad said.

“I sense what the community is saying, and what has been taking place (is) there’s a great upset with that development. This is about police brutality, which our back page of The Final Call newspaper deals with directly, ‘we want an immediate end to police brutality and mob attacks,’” he said.