Family members shed tears as music played and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton gave an impassioned speech at an open casket viewing for Patrick Lyoya — a Black man who was shot dead by a white police officer — in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday.
Sharpton focused many of his remarks around the officer who shot Lyoya during a traffic stop on April 4.
“How dare you hold the name of a man that killed this man? We want his name,” Sharpton told the roughly 1,000-person crowd at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ.
“Every time a young Black man or woman is arrested in this town, you put their name all over the news. Every time we’re suspected of something, you put our name out there,” he said. “How dare you hold the name of a man that killed this man? We want his name!”
“Are you setting a legal precedent now that if a police officer kills somebody on videotape that he’s holding down, and shoots in the head, that if the grand jury doesn’t charge him that we won’t know his name?” Sharpton continued. “We are not going to let that precedent stand.”
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who is working with the Lyoya family, passionately followed: “When we witnessed with our own eyes, not something Ben Crump said, not something Al Sharpton said, but what we witnessed with our own eyes, an unnamed police officer escalated a simple misdemeanor traffic stop into a deadly execution where they shot this young brother in the back of the head.”
The 26-year-old Lyoya, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, died when a white Grand Rapids Police Department officer shot him in the back of the head after a struggle on the ground, body camera footage showed. The cop, who officials have decided not to name unless charges are levied, pulled Lyoya over for a tag that didn’t match his car.
Different sources of video captured the incident that unfolded earlier this month. Police released bodycam and dashcam footage, as well as cellphone and home surveillance video.
Lawyers for Lyoya’s family said Tuesday that an independent autopsy shows he was shot in the back of the head. Dr. Werner Spitz, a member of the autopsy team speaking this week, said he believes the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head when the shot was fired. An official autopsy report from the Kent County chief medical examiner has not been released to the public yet.
The service, incorporating elements of Black American and Congolese culture, included speeches, singing and dancing. A man who said he was Lyoya’s brother sang what he said was an original song. His parents, with grief-stricken faces, watched the ceremony without speaking.
As for Sharpton and Crump, they once again tapped into Russia’s war in Ukraine, comparing it to what happened to Lyoya.
“World leaders can condemn Russian soldiers shooting unarmed citizens in the Ukraine, but then refuse to condemn police officers shooting unarmed Black citizens here in Grand Rapids, Mich. If it’s wrong that you do it in Ukraine, then it’s wrong that you do it in Grand Rapids,” Crump said.
“From Ukraine to Grand Rapids, we must stand up for victims,” Sharpton said.
Lyoya immigrated to the U.S. from Congo in 2014, according to the family’s attorneys. His father told the Associated Press in an interview that they left Congo to escape the violence there.
During the incident with police in Grand Rapids earlier this month, a struggle over the officer’s Taser led to the cop getting on top of Lyoya, who was unarmed, and shooting him as he was face down on the ground.
In the footage, Lyoya is seen exiting his vehicle after getting pulled over for what Crump said was a “minor traffic stop.” When the officer comes over, he tells Lyoya to “get back in the car.” Instead, Lyoya closes the door and asks why he needs to get his information.
“Do you have a driver’s license, do you speak English?” the officer asks. Lyoya opens the driver’s side door and asks the passenger in his car to get his license. While waiting for it, he closes the door and starts to walk away. That’s when the officer pursues him.
The officer’s bodycam footage turned off before the fatal shot. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said that happens when a button is pushed for three seconds, and it appears that it unintentionally deactivated during the tussle.
Crump called for the Michigan attorney general to investigate the officer involved. The unidentified officer has not been charged, but he is on paid leave and his policing powers were suspended, the Grand Rapids Police Department said. Attorneys are calling for him to be fired and charged to the full extent of the law for the killing.