The Rev. Al Sharpton demanded that authorities publicly identify the Michigan officer who killed Patrick Lyoya, a Black man and native of Congo who was fatally shot in the back of the head after a struggle, saying at Lyoya’s funeral Friday: “We want his name!”
Sharpton’s comments renewed demands by Lyoya’s family members and activists. He told the roughly 1,000 people gathered that authorities cannot set a precedent of withholding the names of officers who kill people. Police in Grand Rapids have said they would withhold 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 as city employees.
“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,” Sharpton said. “How dare you hold the name of a man that killed this man? We want his name!”
Mourners at Renaissance Church of God in Christ, many wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts bearing Lyoya’s picture, stood and applauded.
In a statement Friday, City Manager Mark Washington acknowledged the demands 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 the discussions or a decision, spokesman David Green said, adding that Washington’s statement was intended to let city residents know “we hear you” and “we’re willing to assess that 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 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., putting Lyoya’s death in the context of the national civil rights movement. He said Lyoya came to America in search of a better life and “ran into an America that we know too well.” He urged those gathered to continue to fight for justice, and called for a federal investigation into Lyoya’s killing.
“We can’t bring Patrick back. But we can bring justice in Patrick’s 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 had offered help state investigators and local prosecutors and that the Justice Department can provide “consultation, mediation or training assistance.” He said his office will continue to review the facts to determine whether additional federal response is warranted.
Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Lyoya family, have frequently joined with mourners to speak at the funerals of Black people killed by police. Sharpton has eulogized George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning on 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 Friday, saying “an unnamed police officer escalated a simple misdemeanor traffic stop into a deadly execution.” He said the issue is one of humanity, and he called on federal lawmakers to pass reforms aimed at curbing systemic racism in policing.
“World leaders can’t condemn Russian soldiers shooting unarmed citizens in the back of the head in Ukraine, but then refuse to condemn police officers shooting unarmed Black citizens here in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” he said. “If it’s wrong that you do it in the Ukraine then it’s wrong that you do it in Grand Rapids.”
After the service, Crump told reporters: “We believe the whole world is watching Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Lyoya’s body lay in a white, open casket inside the church before the service began. Once the funeral started, the casket was closed and the flag of Congo was draped over it. Below the casket, a sign bearing an image of the American flag and a photo of Lyoya said: “It’s our right to live,” in both English and Swahili.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas, sobbed as mourners filed in to pay their respects, and tears ran down her cheek as music played and a choir sang.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Michigan’s only Black member of Congress, read a proclamation saluting Lyoya’s memory, saying he was an American of great distinction, whose life and legacy would not be forgotten.
“This is personal to me. This is my family. You are my family. This is 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 Sen. Winnie Brinks, were also in attendance.
The funeral program was printed in English and Swahili, and a portion of the service was led by leaders in the Congolese community. Bethlehem Shekanena, whose parents immigrated from Congo, said the Lyoyas came to the U.S. for life, liberty and the ability to pursue happiness.
“We are gathered here today because the promise given to all those who reside on this land, the very foundation of what makes America America — it was broken the moment Patrick Lloya was killed in the streets.” she said, adding: “He did not deserve to die.”
Before the service, mourners were given T-shirts that read “Justice For Patrick Lyoya” on one side and “It’s our Right to Live!” on the other. Some men removed their suit jackets and slipped the shirt on over their dress shirts.
Lyoya, who was unarmed, was face down on the ground when he was shot April 4. The officer, whose name has not been released, was on top of him and can be heard on video demanding that he take his hand off the officer’s Taser.
Earlier, the officer is heard saying Lyoya was stopped because the license plate did not match the car Lyoya was driving. Lyoya, a 26-year-old father of two, declined to get back into the vehicle as ordered, and a short foot chase ensued before the deadly struggle.
“How dare you pull your gun about some car tags?” Sharpton said during his eulogy.
State police are investigating the shooting. The agency will forward findings to Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker for consideration of any charges. He has told the public to not expect a quick decision.
Attorneys for the Lyoya family have said they believe video collected and released by police shows Lyoya was resisting the officer, not fighting him. His parents have called the shooting an “execution.”