Sharpton demands federal probe into Lyoya's shooting death at funeral
Grand Rapids — The Rev. Al Sharpton has been here before. So has Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney.
On Friday, they attended yet another funeral for a Black man killed by a police officer.
But this was a new experience for Peter and Dorcas Lyoya. The person being buried was their 26-year-old son. Patrick Lyoya was fatally shot April 4 by a Grand Rapids officer during a traffic stop.
The Lyoyas have joined a fraternity nobody wants to belong to, Sharpton said during the Friday funeral.
“(Lyoya) ran into an America that we know too well,” he said during a fiery speech. “Enough is enough.”
The two-hour service at Renaissance Church of God in Christ featured joy and sadness, dancing and weeping, heartbreak in two languages.
With chanting and rousing speeches, it sometimes seemed more like a political rally than a funeral. Little was said about Lyoya’s personal life. None of the speakers knew him, but they were well aware of his plight.
“We believe the whole world is watching Grand Rapids, Michigan,” Crump said after the funeral.
One person who did know Lyoya was Fred Bozile. The two men were acquaintances in the Congo and continued their friendship after they moved to Grand Rapids.
Before the beginning of the funeral, Bozile, 48, talked to a photo of Lyoya on a banner at a table distributing memorial T-shirts.
“I love you so much,” said Bozile, tears streaming down his cheeks. “God bless you. Rest in peace. Rest in peace. Rest in peace.”
The T-shirts read “It’s our right to live” in English, Swahili and French, which is spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Patrick moved from in 2014.
Inside the church, Lyoya’s parents and five siblings were dressed in memorial T-shirts and hoodies. Also present were his two daughters, ages 2 years and 3 months.
His father was slumped in a chair with his head bowed. His mom sobbed as she rocked back and forth. A brother buried his face in his lap.
A few yards away was Patrick. The flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo was draped over the white coffin. A banner under the open casket showed his photo between pictures of the Congo and American flags.
About 1,200 mourners slowly filed into the warehouse-like church as a choir played soft gospel music.
Among them was Al LeGrand, who traveled from Kalamazoo. He said he knew what the Lyoya family is going through.
LeGrand, 56, said his cousin was killed by police during a raid of a friend’s home in the 1990s. He said the police involved were never punished and he didn’t want the same injustice repeated in Grand Rapids.
“How many times? How many times do we go through it?” LeGrande asked. “We need justice for this man and everyone else who this has happened to.”
For Sharpton, who gave the eulogy, this was familiar terrain. It was another Black church in another struggling neighborhood bemoaning another young man’s death.
Among those he has eulogized are George Floyd, whose 2020 death in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning on race.
On Friday, Sharpton thundered from the pulpit, bringing the crowd to its feet for most of his speech.
The Brooklyn preacher demanded that authorities publicly identify the police officer involved in the shooting. He said it was unacceptable that the man's name will be released only if he’s charged with a crime.
He said the police routinely release the names of Blacks suspected of crimes.
“You put their name all over the news,” he said. “Every time we’re suspected of something, you put our name out there. How dare you hold the name of a man that killed this man.”
Sharpton demanded the U.S. Justice Department investigate the shooting, which is being handled now by the Michigan State Police.
"I’m not going to desecrate the local authorities, but I want to call on the federal Justice Department to investigate this," he said.
He urged people who have been holding demonstrations over the shooting during the past week to continue doing so.
“We can’t bring Patrick back,” he said. “But we can bring justice in Patrick’s name.”
As Sharpton spoke, a man standing against a wall raised his fist several times, yelling “Justice for Patrick.”
A sitting family held a banner with Lyoya’s image and the slogan “It’s our right to live.”
For the Congolese community in attendance, an interpreter translated the service into Swahili.
Among the dignitaries who attended were U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and state Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.
Crump, who is representing the Lyoya family, criticized the police officer for what he described as an escalation of a traffic stop. He said the nation needs to adopt reforms to prevent systemic racism in policing.
He said it was hypocritical for Americans to criticize Russians for killing civilians in Ukraine when U.S. police are fatally shooting Black men.
“If it’s wrong that you do it in the Ukraine, then it’s wrong that you do it in Grand Rapids,” Crump said.
Lawrence, who is 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.
She said the death was personal to her.
“This is my family,” Lawrence said. “You are my family. This is my community. And if I don’t stand up, who will?”
On April 4, Lyoya, who was unarmed, was face down on the ground and trying to rise when he was shot in the back of the head. The White officer was on top of him and can be heard on video demanding that he take his hand off the officer’s stun gun.
The officer is heard earlier saying Lyoya was stopped because the license plate did not match the car Lyoya had been driving in a Grand Rapids neighborhood. Lyoya declined to get back into the vehicle as ordered and fled the scene. A short foot chase ensued before the deadly struggle.
Once the state police finish investigating, the agency will forward its findings to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office for consideration of any charges. County Prosecutor Chris Becker has told the public not to expect a quick decision.
During the funeral, a soft rain began to fall, which continued as the service ended and Lyoya’s coffin was taken to a nearby cemetery for burial.