One day before Patrick Lyoya’s funeral, the Lyoya family, their attorney Ben Crump and hundreds of other protesters made their way to the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.
The peaceful protest, hosted by Black Lives Matter Lansing, was held about three weeks after Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white Grand Rapids police officer after a traffic stop. In footage released by the Grand Rapids Police Department, or GRPD, Lyoya was struggling with the officer over the officer's taser. It was after the officer was on top of him that the fatal shot was fired.
Central to the demands of the protest leaders, as well as Lyoya’s family, is the demand of GRPD to release the name of the police officer who killed Lyoya.
“The unknown killer cop … he needs to be named,” speaker Angela Waters Austin said during the rally. “He needs to be arrested, and he needs to be prosecuted.”
An organizer with Black Lives Matter Lansing, K.T. Saxon, said the point of the protest was to demand justice for Lyoya, but that it extends beyond him.
“We want to stop seeing this happen,” Saxon said. “This is amoral, it’s not right, and so we want to change this at every level, so that way we can stop seeing our brothers and our sisters murdered on live TV.”
Lee Taylor led a libation ceremony during the rally, where a liquid is poured out for the deceased. During this time, Taylor said the names of several Black people who have died at the hands of police, with the crowd responding “ashay,” which is the Yoruba word for "Amen." In this ceremony, Taylor did not pour water on the Capitol steps because she said she would be fined for doing so.
“One of the things that the police officers do is put a demonized, victimized label on our community, to give them the right to come in and take the lives of our people,” Taylor said in an interview with The State News. “We are not going to allow it to continue without putting a financial burden back on this huge, inhumane treatment.”
Taylor also said that the police needed to be reformed so for someone who is having a medical or mental crisis, the police are not called in.
“You don’t take handcuffs,” she said. “You don’t pull a gun. When you have someone with a language barrier, you don’t arrest them. You talk and you don’t arrest a person for a license plate. You tell them what the issue is, give them a fine and walk away. You don’t kill them.”
Lyoya was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. Much of what the speakers at the rally were saying was then repeated by a translator for the Lyoya family to better understand.
Also featured at the rally was Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack, who said that police department should not be hiring officers from outside of the communities they are then policing.
“What good is a title today, when we hired from way beyond the suburbs to come into a Black community and police an urban environment they know nothing about,” Womack said.
The rally also featured poetry, read by Saxon:
“Cause no matter how far I dream, I seem to always have to find my own yard to play in. A place where my dreams are as cool as the other side of the pillow, but I always wake up to the reality where I ain’t free, but I can’t be held down because you held down for thinking this Black boy ain’t magic. In fact, name a better trick than being able to rest in peace while Black in America. Better yet, name a better illusion than the American dream.”
For resources, the MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, is available 24/7 by calling 517-355-8270. The MSU Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is also available by calling 517-355-4506.
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