Two months of frustration and anger in Grand Rapids in the aftermath of a fatal police encounter resulting in the death of a Black man culminated when Kent County, Mich., prosecutor Christopher Becker announced one charge for the officer who killed Patrick Lyoya.
During a traffic stop, Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr, who is White, shot Mr. Lyoya in the back of his head. The death of the 26-year-old Black man was captured on video.
Eight days after receiving a full report, which included a forensic report, a toxicology report and investigation findings by Michigan State Police, Prosecutor Becker made the decision to charge Off. Schurr with one count of second-degree murder, which is a felony offence punishable by up to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The prosecutor informed Mr. Lyoya’s family before announcing the charge at a June 9 press conference.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, released a statement following the announcement.
“We are encouraged by attorney Christopher Becker’s decision to charge Christopher Schurr for the brutal killing of Patrick Lyoya, which we all witnessed when the video footage was released to the public,” he said. “While the road to justice for Patrick and his family has just begun, this decision is a crucial step in the right direction. Officer Schurr must be held accountable for his decision to pursue an unarmed Patrick, ultimately shooting him in the back of the head and killing him—for nothing more than a traffic stop.”
Mr. Lyoya is the eldest son of Congolese refugees who fled a rebel insurgency to seek asylum in the United States in 2014. His April 4 death sparked protests and calls for justice by families, friends and supporters.
When the charge was announced, Off. Schurr had already turned himself in and was in jail. He was arraigned June 10 and has been on paid leave since the incident. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom recommended Off. Schurr be suspended without pay before he is ultimately fired, reported Mlive.com.
The chief stated on June 9, that by the end of that day he planned to submit a letter to the city manager recommending that Schurr be suspended without pay and terminated, the website reported.
Robert S. Womack, Kent County Commissioner of the 17th District in Grand Rapids, told The Final Call he was proud the officer had been charged.
“I’m very proud that my community stood up even though its leaders wouldn’t stand up. The community did stand up, ask for justice, demand justice,” he said.
The commissioner pointed out some of the additional evidence that might come out as a result of the upcoming trial, including video footage of what occurred after the shooting, video footage of the body cameras of the officers who arrived on the scene and the location of the police cars when Off. Schurr called for backup.
“There’s so much more evidence that will come out in this case, and the public deserves to see this evidence,” he said. “And once again, I’m just proud of the African Americans in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that stood up and said our lives matter. We’ve had enough. We’re not going to take anymore.”
Mr. Womack also pointed out the racism in high places that emerged as a result of the shooting, as some protesters were in jail during the announcement and are facing felony charges.
“A very pious man once said our unity is as powerful as an atomic bomb,” Commissioner Womack said, quoting the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam. “As long as we don’t have that unity, we will continue to be persecuted and oppressed at the will of others,” he added.
Pastor Ngandu Amisi, president of the Congolese community in West Michigan, expressed his dissatisfaction on the charge to The Final Call. He rated his satisfaction at about six percent, due to the next steps that will have to be taken to ensure justice.
“We have to keep putting pressure until everything is completely done and then we can see,” he stated. “Because up to now, when I asked some lawyers, they told me the police officer is not, he’s never going to be really completely arrested until he appears before the judge.”
Prosecutor Becker stressed that point during his announcement. “As it stands now, this is merely an allegation, and as with any defendant, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” he stated.
Regarding the reactions of the community, Mr. Amisi said it is split, but that there was a huge amount of community pressure that thought he should charge, and if he didn’t, “something’s gonna happen.”
Student Minister Sultan Z. Muhammad, Grand Rapids’ local study group coordinator of the Nation of Islam, said there was great anticipation throughout the city regarding the announcement, though he stressed the importance of remaining sober-minded.
“We have to be careful not to celebrate too much too soon, because there have been many who have been charged with a lot of things, and it has not meant that that person is found guilty. So, I think that it is a good step that there were charges. I don’t think that they had any other choice really, with the clear execution of brother Patrick Lyoya,” he stated.
“I think anything less would have caused great uproar, and I think that they made a calculated decision to lay charges because they really had no other choice. But it’ll be interesting to see now how they actually fight to make those charges stick and if it is followed through with a true effort to make sure that that officer is convicted of those charges,” said Student Min. Muhammad.
He explained that the best way to ensure justice comes is by continuing to bring attention to critical issues that impact the Black community. He lifted the Biblical scripture, “Justice standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.”
“We’re dealing with a system that really does not bring justice to our people, because it is not made to do that. So, we are not, I don’t think, in a position to ensure that justice takes place, because we don’t control the systems that do that, but we can try to make sure it stays in the light, that we keep the tension on it, that we push for it,” he said.
“Ultimately, our true justice comes from Allah (God). And even if they don’t convict him in man’s court, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said there’s always a higher court, there’s always a universal court, that no injustice gets past the true Judge,” said Student Min. Muhammad.
A trial date for Off. Schurr has not been set, yet.