GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Funeral services were held for Patrick Lyoya Friday, 18 days after he was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer, with civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton calling on the hundreds of people assembled to demand justice and national police reform.
Sharpton said he was invited to deliver a eulogy for Lyoya by his father Peter Lyoya.
“I come to be with him and the mother and Patrick’s two children to tell you that this cannot end today,” Sharpton said, prompting applause.
“We can’t bring Patrick back,” he said. “But we can bring justice in Patrick’s name.”
He drew a rhetorical line between Lyoya’s death on April 4, 2022, with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. He said he was informed of the shooting by another civil rights activist and that civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Lyoya family, later told him that Lyoya had been shot in the back of the head by a police officer.
“This is as bad as it gets,” Sharpton said. “You turned a traffic stop into what appears by tape to be an execution.”
He called on authorities to release the name of the officer. Police have said they will not release it unless or until the officer is charged.
“Let me tell you the danger of this. Are you saying … that if he’s never charged, we’ll never know his name? Are you setting a legal precedent now that if a policeman kills somebody on video tape that he’s holding down and shoots in the back of the head, that if the grand jury don’t charge him, that we will never know his name?” Sharpton said. “I come from New York to tell you that we’re not going to let that precedent stand.”
He praised the demonstrators who have repeatedly marched and chanted in downtown Grand Rapids, calling for justice for Lyoya.
“They’re not the troublemakers, they’re the trouble breakers. It’s trouble when you can shoot people in the head and remain anonymous,” Sharpton said. “Don’t ask them are they going to be violent. Give us the name of the one that was violent.”
He said the November midterm election will act as a referendum on police reform, meant to show lawmakers that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act must be passed in Congress, eliminating qualified immunity.
“We will stand with good cops. We will stand with those police that uphold the law. But if a policeman kills when his life is not under threat — and you can’t be under threat when you’re on top of somebody with their head down and their face in the ground. If you’re right, we stand with you,” Sharpton said. “But if a policeman is wrong, we’re going to call it wrong and we’re going to call your name.”
Sharpton’s civil rights advocacy group paid for the funeral. It was held at a packed Renaissance Church of God in Christ on 33rd Street SE in Grand Rapids. About 1,000 people attended. Much of the service was translated into Swahili for the many members of the Congolese community in the crowd and who are related to Lyoya.
“There’s never a good time for a time as this, but how many know that God is a very present help when we face troubled times,” Bishop Dennis McMurray, the senior pastor at the church and master of ceremonies for the funeral, said as it got underway. “Let’s be strength for this family, let’s give God praise once again for blessing (Lyoya’s) mom and dad, everybody, where we need him the most.”
LYOYA RECALLED AS SON, FATHER, FRIEND
Lyoya was 26. He and his family came to the U.S. as refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was 18. He had two daughters.
In his obituary, he was remembered as a “warm and loving person who would do anything for his family and friends.” It said he loved soccer, dancing, holiday gatherings with his family and making others laugh.
“He was a beloved son, an active father, a loving friend, and an adored brother,” the obituary read in part. “Patrick was taken from his family, children, and friends too soon and leaves a hole in their heart which will never be filled.”
Before the funeral began, Lyoya’s family viewed his body for the first time since his death. His parents, Peter and Dorcas Lyoya, looked at their eldest son’s face and wept.
They wore shirts with his face on them, Peter Lyoya’s under his suit jacket and Dorcas Lyoya’s over her dress. During the service, the casket was draped with a Congolese flag. After the funeral, Lyoya was interred at Resurrection Cemetery in Wyoming.
“Patrick came here looking for a better life and ran into an America that we know too well,” Sharpton said. “And we won’t stop till we change this country. We won’t stop till we turn this country around. We built this country, we made this country, we made it the richest country in the world and we never got paid. But you’re going to give justice. You’re going give fairness. You’re going to turn this country around. You’re going to give justice for Patrick.”
Sharpton called on federal authorities to launch a civil rights inquiry. He said he put in a call to the feds Friday morning and was expecting to hear back, and that he has talked to people within President Joe Biden’s administration about Lyoya’s death.
“We don’t want local politics to compromise justice,” he said. “We are calling the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and stand up for the civil rights of Patrick Lyoya.”
In attendance at the funeral were Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, City Manager Mark Washington, Grand Rapids Office of Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis, Greater Grand Rapids NAACP President Cle Jackson and Urban League President Eric Brown, congressional candidate Hillary Scholten and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.
“Today is the day of grieving, but today the community has come to put their arms around you,” Lawrence said. “I am here as a member of the United States House of Representatives and I come here as the only Black representative for the United States Congress in Michigan. This is personal to me. This my family, you are my family, this is my community. And if I don’t stand up, who will?”
“We have work to do,” she added. “Patrick is a man. He’s a human being. And most of all, he is a man of African descent. We must stand up in America and not be silent, to stand up and fight for three things: for justice, transparency and for accountability. Someone is accountable for what happened. We may not know their name, but the accountability is still resting with that person.”
“We intend to fight for justice for this family,” Sharpton told reporters after the funeral. “This is not a cameo appearance. I will be here whenever and however needed.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Lyoya family, said the world is watching the case.
“The leadership gets to write how this story will end. Will it be one where we achieved equal justice for Patrick Lyoya and others?” Crump said. “How this will this tragedy be remembered? I pray that they will take advantage of the opportunity to say, ‘Grand Rapids, we’re better than what we saw in that video: an execution to the back of the head.'”
“Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States, we’re so much better than this,” Michigan attorney Ven Johnson, who is working with Crump, agreed. “Now we have to prove it by transparency, openness, honesty, by the investigation, discipline to this officer, charges criminally and if necessary, civil action.”
They say the officer repeatedly escalated rather than deescalated the situation.
Outside before the service, people wore shirts that read “It’s our right to live!” on the front and “Justice for Patrick Lyoya” on the back. Many were members of the Congolese community.
“When we have something like this, all the community has to come to support each other,” Enoch Rushiaana, one of Lyoya’s relatives, said. “Doesn’t matter how far we live, we have to come and support each other.”
The funeral drew people from all over, including Holland City Council Member Belinda Coronado.
“I don’t pretend to know all the answers and I don’t want anyone to think I’m against the police or anything like that. But at the same time, this family lost their son, a brother, uncle, nephew. I want to make sure they know I feel their loss,” Coronado said.
LYOYA LAID TO REST AT GRAVESIDE SERVICE
The family then layed their first-born son to rest at a cemetery in Wyoming. As Patrick’s body arrived, with his casket draped with the flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, attendees held a banner reading “it’s our right to live.”
“What if that was your child?” Reg James, who attended the service, said. “What if that was your child shot in the back of the head? How do you expect them to feel?”
The community rallied behind the family, carrying Congo flags and wearing sweatshirts with Patrick’s face on the front with the words “Justice for Patrick Lyoya” on the back.
Deandre Jones, who also attended the service, has been protesting day after day since the video showing Patrick’s killing was released. News 8 asked him what “Justice for Patrick” means to him.
“Justice is to hold this officer accountable,” Jones said. “Charge this officer properly. I believe he did commit a crime here so he does need to be charged properly. He needs to be charged at the highest extent of the law.”
“You didn’t have to shoot him in the back of the head,” James added. “If anyone would say that’s execution, how could you not say it’s not?”
As Patrick was laid to rest, those leading the service said “the true injustice will come out,” and “the life of Patrick will not go in vain.”
“This could be anybody else’s family,” Jones said. “We need to have our voices heard.”
MSP STILL INVESTIGATING
Video released by the Grand Rapids Police Department shows the officer pulling Lyoya over on April 4. There was a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing the officer’s Taser. The officer, who was atop Lyoya as the two struggled, shot him once in the head, killing him.
Michigan State Police are investigating the shooting. The agency released a statement Friday morning saying its detectives are working carefully to make sure everything is in order.
“Detectives are taking every measure to ensure all evidence and facts are accurately collected and documented. We recognize the importance of this investigation, and we are sensitive to the need to complete it in as timely and efficient of a manner as possible. As with any investigation, gathering all the facts and documenting every piece of evidence takes time and we appreciate the patience of the community as we work to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” the statement read. “Once detectives finalize their report, it will be forwarded to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office for review. There is no timeline on when this will occur.”
The Kent County prosecutor will decide whether the officer’s use of force was justified or whether charges should be issued.
—News 8’s Susan Samples and Ken Kolker contributed to this report.