Youth activists in Detroit demand accountability in Lyoya killing

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Youth activists on Sunday chanted demands for justice for the family of Patrick Lyoya in front of the "Spirit of Detroit," bringing outrage over the April 4 killing of the Black refugee by a police officer in Grand Rapids to the city's municipal building before marching up Woodward Avenue and staging a die-in. 

With signs that read "Justice for Patrick Lyoya" and "Arrest the cop who murdered Patrick Lyoya," and chants proclaiming "no justice, no peace" and "Black lives matter," protesters called for accountability for the Grand Rapids police officer who shot the 26-year-old in the back of the head during a traffic stop, with demands to reveal his identity and fire and prosecute him.

"I feel for Patrick's family, but I can never feel the pain they're feeling," said Perriel Pace, 16, an organizer with Detroit Heals Detroit, through tears while speaking into a megaphone to a crowd of several dozen people. 

The rally and march were organized by Detroit Heals Detroit in conjunction with other Michigan nonprofits like the Michigan chapter of March for Our Lives and Protect Our Stolen Treasures (POST). 

Patrick Lyoya

The officer in question is on paid leave from the police department, and Michigan State Police are investigating the incident. Grand Rapids police released on April 13 video footage showing the struggle that ensued between the officer and Lyoya after he was pulled over with a license plate that did not match his car's registration. 

The officer had asked Lyoya if he had a driver's license and spoke English. When Lyoya indicated he spoke English and wanted to know why the license needed to be produced, the officer said the car wasn't registered.

Protesters assemble for the Detroit Heals Detroit' youth-led rally on Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan.

Lyoya eventually fled the car, a chase on foot ensued and the officer and Lyoya ended up struggling over the officer’s stun gun, according to video footage, before the officer shot Lyoya in the back of the head while Lyoya was face down on the ground. An independent autopsy released Tuesday confirmed the shot as Lyoya's cause of death

"The family deserves to know (the officer's) name. How can Patrick rest in peace without justice?" said Alexandria Hughes of Accountability for Dearborn. "If that were me that committed a crime, that killed someone, my mug shot would be plastered everywhere before I could f------ blink." 

Protesters assemble for the Detroit Heals Detroit' youth-led rally on Sunday April 24, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan.

The rally Sunday came after a funeral was held on Friday for Lyoya, during which the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke about the killing of yet another Black man by a police officer being part of “an America that we know too well.”

Attorneys for Lyoya's family said last week that the death appeared to be a “classic” case of Lyoya being targeted for a “driving-while-Black" traffic stop, and protesters Sunday pointed to the killing as telling of systemic violence by police officers against Black people. 

Names and drawings of Black residents who were killed by police in Michigan, including Shelly Hilliard, Aiyana Jones and Aura Rosser,  were plastered on signs at the rally around which a shrine was erected.

Youth activists on Sunday chanted demands for justice for the family of Patrick Lyoya in front of the "Spirit of Detroit" before marching up Woodward Avenue and staging a die-in.

Yolanda McNair, who said her daughter was killed by a Detroit police officer in 2012, leading her to found POST, said at the rally that she felt "Mama Lyoya's pain," adding that communities protected themselves better than police do. 

"We really don't need them. They protect property, and ideas that don't include that life is precious," said McNair. "Everybody here should be angry. ... Everybody here is here because they want to protect somebody else. ...

"Remember that death requires responsibility and they don't get out of it," she continued. "I don't remember seeing a get out of jail free card for them."

Police brutality is one of the main manifestations of gun violence in Michigan, according to Zoey Rector-Brooks of March for our Lives, who added that organizations involved in the rally were led by young people who were frustrated by what they saw as inaction from legislators. 

A die-in demonstration on the intersection of Woodward and Adams on Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Detroit Michigan.

"I'm just surrounded by people who were very sick and tired of having to be affected by this," said Rector-Brooks, pointing to a recent University of Michigan study that listed firearms as the leading cause of death among kids. " ... Since our legislators, the people in power aren't doing anything about it, we have to do the work ourselves."