Reverend Al Sharpton demanded that authorities publicly identify the Michigan officer who killed Patrick Lyoya, a black and Congo native man who was fatally shot in the back of the head after a fight, saying at the funeral of Lyoya Friday: “We want his name!”
Sharpton’s comments renewed demands from Lyoya family members and activists. He told the roughly 1,000 people gathered that authorities cannot set a precedent by hiding the names of officers who kill people. Grand Rapids police said they will not release the officer’s name unless he is charged with a crime, which they describe as a long-standing practice that applies to the public as well than to city employees.
“Every time a young black man or woman is arrested in this town, you put their name all over the news. Whenever we are suspected of something, you put our name there,” Sharpton said. “How dare you hold the name of a man who killed this man?” We want his name!
Mourners from the Renaissance Church of God in Christ, many wearing Lyoya T-shirts or sweatshirts, stood and clapped.
In a statement Friday, City Manager Mark Washington acknowledged the requests and said he would discuss the matter with the police chief and human resources officials.
“Police reform requires evaluating many long-standing practices to ensure our actions are consistent with the best interests of the community and the individuals involved,” Washington said.
No timeline has been set for discussions or a decision, spokesman David Green said, adding that the statement from Washington was intended to let city residents know “we hear you” and “we stand ready to assess this practice and see if it works or not.”
Sharpton noted that Lyoya was killed on April 4, the anniversary of the 1968 assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., placing Lyoya’s death in the context of the national civil rights movement. He said Lyoya came to America looking for a better life and “stumbled across an America we know too well.” He urged those gathered to continue fighting for justice and called for a federal investigation into Lyoya’s murder.
“We can’t bring Patrick back. But we can do justice to the Patrick name,” he said.
Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the district that includes Grand Rapids, said in a statement that his office and the FBI have offered to assist state investigators and local prosecutors and that the Justice Department can provide “an assistance in matters of consultation, mediation or training”. He said his office will continue to review the facts to determine if an additional federal response is warranted.
Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Lyoya family, have frequently joined mourners in speaking at funerals for black people killed by police. Sharpton praised George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning about race; Daunte Wright, who was shot during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis; Andre Hill, who was killed in Columbus, Ohio; and Andrew Brown Jr., who was killed in North Carolina.
Crump also called for justice on Friday, saying “an anonymous cop turned a simple misdemeanor traffic stop into a deadly execution.” He said it was a humanity issue and called on federal lawmakers to pass reforms aimed at addressing systemic racism in policing.
“World leaders cannot condemn Russian soldiers shooting unarmed citizens in the back of the head in Ukraine, but then refuse to condemn police officers who shoot unarmed black citizens here in Grand Rapids, Michigan “, did he declare. “If it’s wrong for you to do it in Ukraine, then it’s wrong for you to do it in Grand Rapids.”
After the service, Crump told reporters, “We think the whole world is watching Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Lyoya’s body lay in a white, open coffin inside the church before the service began. Once the funeral began, the coffin was closed and the Congo flag was draped over it. Under the coffin, a sign bearing an image of the American flag and a photo of Lyoya read: “It is our right to live”, in English and Swahili.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas, sobbed as mourners showed up to pay their respects, and tears rolled down her cheek as music played and a choir sang.
U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence, Michigan’s only black congresswoman, read a proclamation honoring Lyoya’s memory, saying he was an American of great distinction whose life and legacy would not be forgotten.
“It’s personal to me. It’s my family. You are my family. It’s my community,” she said. “And if I don’t stand up, who will?
Other elected officials, such as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and State Senator Winnie Brinks, were also in attendance.
The funeral program was printed in English and Swahili, and part of the service was led by Congolese community leaders. Bethlehem Shekanena, whose parents immigrated from Congo, said the Lyoyas came to the United States for life, freedom and the ability to pursue happiness.
“We are gathered here today because the promise made to all who reside on this earth, the very foundation of what makes America America, was broken when Patrick Lloya was killed in the streets.” she said, adding, “He didn’t deserve to die.”
Prior to the service, mourners received T-shirts that read “Justice for Patrick Lyoya” on one side and “It’s our right to live!” the other. Some men took off their suit jackets and put the shirt over their dress shirts.
Lyoya, who was unarmed, was face down when he was shot on April 4. The officer, whose name has not been released, was on top of him and can be heard on video demanding that he remove his hand from the officer’s Taser. .
Earlier, the officer is heard saying that Lyoya was arrested because the license plate did not match the car Lyoya was driving. Lyoya, a 26-year-old father of two, refused to get back into the vehicle as ordered, and a short foot chase ensued before the deadly struggle.
“How dare you draw your gun about some car tag?” Sharpton said during his eulogy.
State police are investigating the shooting. The agency will forward the findings to Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker for review of any charges. He told the audience not to expect a quick decision.
Lawyers for the Lyoya family said they believe video collected and released by police shows Lyoya resisting the officer, not fighting him. His parents called the shooting an “execution.”