It took just minutes for a routine traffic stop in Grand Rapids to turn into another police killing of an unarmed Black man.
Law enforcement and city officials in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are facing growing calls for accountability and explanations after the Grand Rapids Police Department released footage showing one of its officers shooting Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed Black man, in the head after a brief struggle during a traffic stop this month.
Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese immigrant and father of two, had been pulled over on April 4 for what police say was improper license plates. As the traffic stop progressed, the videos released by the city show Lyoya exiting his car, and — after being told to return to his vehicle by the officer — briefly grappling with the as-of-yet unnamed policeman who attempted to grab and detain him. Lyoya can then be seen running from the officer who eventually wrestles him to the ground and attempts to subdue him with a Taser, which Lyoya appears to block. Although the officer repeatedly yells “drop the Taser,” an eyewitness whose cellphone footage was released by the city Wednesday is heard insisting Lyoya had not touched the weapon. The officer is then seen pulling his firearm and, seemingly positioned above Lyoya as Lyoya lies face down, shoots him once in the head.
In a statement released after the footage was made public, attorney Ben Crump demanded the officer who shot Lyoya be “terminated” from the force and “arrested and prosecuted” for the killing.
“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive, and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Crump, who is representing Lyoya’s family, said.
Speaking with NBC affiliate WOOD shortly after the shooting, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom described sitting with Lyoya’s father, telling the station, “Peter was sitting next to me and he was crying and I was crying, too.”
“I get it as a father, and it’s an absolute tragedy anytime a life is lost and to sit next to the father of [someone] who just died, it’s tough,” continued Winstrom, who became the GRPD chief in March after previously serving in the Chicago police department. “It’s not the first time I’ve been through it. Hopefully, it’s the last time I’ll be through it, in regards to a police-involved incident, but it’s just heart-wrenching.”
“Patrick is my firstborn. He became like a brother to me,” Lyoya’s father told a crowd during a recent rally on behalf of his son. “Today, I don’t know what to do because I am confused. I want justice for Patrick.”
In a brief statement, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) confirmed that the Michigan State Police are now conducting an investigation into the shooting, from which prosecutors will decide whether to proceed with charges against the officer.
“The lieutenant governor and I spoke with Patrick’s family and our hearts are with them and the Grand Rapids community who are dealing with unimaginable pain and loss,” Whitmer said. “Patrick was 26. He arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family fleeing violence. He had his whole life ahead of him. Patrick was a son, a dad of two young daughters, and an older brother to his five siblings.”
In the days since the officer shot Lyoya to death, protesters and activists have marched through Grand Rapids, demanding justice and accountability.
“I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart, none of us will ever come out here and say we’re going to protest and we’re going to light stuff on fire, we’re going to burn down buildings. Never. Never. Because we want to keep the peace," activist Bri Pearson told ABC affiliate WZZM. “Our goal is to keep the peace, to make peace, and to make a change.”