GRAND RAPIDS — Hundreds gathered Friday to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Patrick Lyoya, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer during a traffic stop earlier this month.
In addition to giving loved ones and friends a chance to pay their respects to the 26-year-old who immigrated with his family to the U.S. in 2014, the service was a reminder of racial challenges that America — and police departments — still face.
It was a funeral aimed at rallying a community that is hurting and feels a grave injustice has been committed.
Speakers included a civil rights leader, a U.S. representative, a local commissioner, and Congolese-American ministers and advocates.
Sharpton’s message was a rallying cry, urging the crowd to take action to “stand with good cops who uphold the law,” and to stand against police killing people who are not a threat.
A nationally known commentator, he has a long history of activism against injustice. In 2004, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. And he pledged to help Lyoya’s family cover funeral expenses.
“This cannot end today,” he told an applauding crowd, demanding officials release the name of the shooter. “To add insult to the injury they’re telling this family, they will not release the name of the one responsible for this death.”
The New York reverend questioned what message Lyoya’s death was sending to Africa and, around the world — especially in the face of Russia’s war in the Ukraine. He raised the legacy of slavery and and the dehumanization of others.
Sharpton asked if a man’s life was worth having the wrong car tags.
Sharpton added that every time a young Black man or woman is arrested, their names are printed and broadcast in the news, and every time, “we’re suspected of something, you put our name out there.”
Set at Renaissance Church of God in Christ, which can seat 1,000 people, family and other mourners viewed Lyoya’s body. It was placed in a white casket draped with the sky-blue flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Patrick!” women cried out, weeping over the body, even before the service began.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas Lyoya, sat wearing a black hoodie with her boy’s photo, as his father, Peter Lyoya, who wore a white shirt also with his son’s image, cradled his head in his right hand.
But, more than a remembrance, the funeral was a platform to demand change with a call to action emblazoned on mourners’ black T-shirts. They read: “It’s Our Right to Live!” on the front and, “Justice for Patrick Lyoya,” on back.
Before the funeral, Bishop DJ McMurray, the church’s senior pastor, asked the guests to fill in empty seats to make room for everyone.
Mourners waited for about an hour for Sharpton, who was delayed, to arrive.
People, he said, flew in for the services from all over the country.
Sharpton also said he wanted the Lyoya’s family to they were now family, too, because they were united by tragedy, and a common cause: justice.
“Can you imagine, how they must be discussing Patrick in the Congo?” Sharpton asked. “Patrick, in Africa? Patrick, all over this world? We stand with President Biden for those victims in Ukraine.”
“How they are saying, but they shot a young boy in the United States,” he added. “How from Ukraine to Grand Rapids we must stand up for victims.”
Sharpton said “we can’t bring Patrick back,” but “we can bring justice in Patrick’s name.”
Also speaking at the funeral, U.S Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and the state’s only Black member of Congress, said she wanted to say to the family that “today is a day of grieving, but today the community has come to put their arms around you.”
She said she came to speak because the issue is personal.
“This is my community and if I don’t stand up, who will,” she added. “Today we lay to rest a man, father, son — and a victim. We know that as we have gotten our call to action we have work to do.”
Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, who has been outspoken about Lyoya death, called upon local elected officials to speak up against “over policing in African-American communities.”
“We need you on the front lines, every day,” he said.
And he led the crowd in chants of “Black Lives Matter.”
Video of Lyoya’s stop and fatal shooting, which has been seen nationwide, raises questions of whether fatal force was necessary and whether race was an issue in the stop and shooting.
In recent years, police officers nationally have come under increased scrutiny as media outlets have uncovered how hundreds of motorists who were not wielding a weapon or sought for a violent crime.
In 2020, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests across the country.
Last year, a Free Press investigation found that Black men are nearly six times more likely in Michigan to be charged with resisting than white men and minor infractions, like failing to use a turn signal, have resulted in the forceful arrests.
According to a New York Times investigation, American police officers, over the previous five years, had killed more than 400 people “who were not wielding a gun or knife or under pursuit for a violent crime.”
And this year alone, more than 250 people were fatally shot by on-duty police officers nationwide, a Washington Post database shows.
Since Lyoya’s death, there have been multiple protests in Grand Rapids and other cities across Michigan, including one in Lansing on Thursday.
The officer, whose name has not been released by officials, is on paid leave and is the subject of an investigation by the Michigan State Police. No charges have been brought against him.
A refugee from the Congo, Lyoya was shot an killed by a bullet fired in the back of his head, his family attorneys and an independent autopsy by two well-known pathologists said.
Family attorney Benjamin Crump said Thursday that Lyoya “was brutally executed.” He specializes in civil rights and catastrophic personal injury cases, and touts he is “devoted to advocating for the voiceless of our society.”
Crump — who has represented high-profile victims of police violence, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Michael Brown — spoke at the funeral, saying “we come here to make a plea for justice.”
He said that people could witness with their own eyes what happened.
“It’s not just an issue that affects Grand Rapids,” he said, adding that it goes beyond the state, country, and applies to the world. “This is an issue that affects all humanity because Patrick was a human being.”
Lyoya and his family faced violence and persecution in Congo, which has seen prolonged conflict. In the past couple of years, immigrants from Congo have made up the largest group of refugees in Michigan.
Lyoya’s parents told the Free Press through a translator that their son was a loving son who worked in a small plant manufacturing auto parts.
“They told us that in America, there’s peace, there’s safety, you’re not going to see killing anymore,” Dorcas Lyoya said. She added that the United States was portrayed as “a safe haven.”
Patrick Lyoya was pulled over by a police officer who said his license plate did not match the car. Crump suggested Lyoya may have been racially profiled since the officer initially approached him in the opposite direction and then made a U-turn.
After Lyoya got out of the car, a short chase and struggle ensued.
The officer drew his Taser at one point, video footage showed. The two wrestled over the Taser. While Lyoya was face down, the officer fired a bullet into the back of his head.
The independent autopsy report showed no other injuries on Lyoya’s body.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: email@example.com or Twitter @nwarikoo.
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