How Patrick Lyoya’s death has sparked growing public demonstrations and political attention.
BY NITISH PAHWA APRIL 14, 2022 4:28 PM
n April 4, yet another Black American’s life was stopped much too soon by a police bullet, this time in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A week and a half later, amid growing public outrage and conflicting accounts of the incident, the Grand Rapids Police Department played grisly recordings of the shooting, taken from multiple sources and angles, in a press conference presided over by city officials. More than 21,000 viewers simultaneously tuned in to the YouTube livestream of the Wednesday meeting.
The presser was the result of consistent, growing public pressure. When 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya—a refugee from Congo who’d lived in Grand Rapids for seven years—was shot to death by a still-unidentified cop, family members and city residents immediately demanded answers. Patrick’s father, Peter Lyoya, was given access to dashboard camera footage a few days after the shooting and spoke emotionally to local media outlets through a translator (he only speaks Swahili), claiming the recording contradicted initial police narratives about the killing. The local NAACP branch subsequently questioned the matter.
This past weekend, a protest and candlelight vigil were held in Patrick’s memory; hundreds of Grand Rapids residents showed up, and Peter’s translator, a local pastor named Israel Siku, got a few of the marchers to re-create the incident as he’d viewed it in police footage. “It was an execution style,” he exclaimed, formulating a clear image of a cop holding Patrick on the ground, face down, and shooting him through the back of the head.
By Sunday, Peter Lyoya had gained the counsel of attorney Ben Crump, who previously represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. The following day, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters made a statement requesting a fair probe into Patrick’s death. On Tuesday, the broader NAACP “demand[ed] a full and transparent investigation” into the shooting. Another march was organized in Grand Rapids that evening, with more than 100 residents marching down to the GRPD headquarters as well as to the City Commission—which was holding its first meeting since the shooting—to express their dissatisfaction that the shooter had not yet been named. (This is due to the fact that he’s a suspect of investigation, although he’s been broadly identified as a white man who has served on the force for seven years and is currently on paid administrative leave. He has yet to be interviewed by fellow police and investigators.) Many of the city commissioners offered their verbal support for the protesters; the GRPD, meanwhile, had begun erecting concrete barriers around its building Tuesday evening before marchers arrived.
nowing that protesters and the family spent the days after the shooting demanding the tapes’ immediate release, GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom repeatedly emphasized his commitment to “transparency about use of force” during the Wednesday presser—which came just one month into his tenure as head of a department that’s faced numerous allegations of racist policing over the years. By way of demonstrating that commitment, he alluded to a city law that requires officer-shooting cases to be turned over to state police and county prosecutors, and claimed he’d made a “deal” to legally release the footage before the case concluded. Winstrom—who referred to himself as a “reform-minded” cop who’d left Chicago’s police force to effect “change” in the GRPD—further stated that he hoped Patrick Lyoya’s killing would be “the last one I ever have to deal with.”
The disturbing footage Winstrom showed makes for all the direct evidence the public currently has on hand. Lyoya’s death was seen from four separate sources: a witness’s cellphone, the officer’s body camera, the cop car’s dashboard camera, and a nearby home surveillance system. Put together, the incident can be fairly described as follows.
Around 8:11 a.m. on April 4, a police cruiser turned on its siren lights and followed a car with a mismatched license plate through an intersection in the southeast region of Grand Rapids.* The car’s driver, Lyoya, pulled over shortly after and stepped out of the car. “Stay in the car!” yelled the cop as he left the cruiser to confront Lyoya. The two stood outside Lyoya’s vehicle during the following exchange:
Officer: Get in the car! Dude, I’m stopping you!
Lyoya: What happened?
Officer: Do you have a driver’s license? Do you speak English?
Officer: Can I see your license?
Lyoya: What do you want?
Officer: The plate does not belong on this car. Do you have a license or no?
Officer: Where’s it at?
Lyoya: Inside the car.
Officer: Get it for me.