The following is an editorial from the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of West Coast Styles.
On April 4, during the morning hours, the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man took place in Grand Rapids, MI. Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, was on the ground with a police officer on top of him and then shot in the back of the head.
On April 13, the Grand Rapids police released videos of the officer killing Lyoya despite the county prosecutor’s advisement not to until the completion of the state’s investigation. However, the city’s police chief wanted full transparency, and videos of the shooting and the events leading up to it, from a dashcam, body-worn camera, a home security system, and a cell phone, were all made public.
What began as a traffic stop over a license plate that did not match a car escalated to the unnecessary loss of life in the form of execution. As the dashcam footage shows, Lyoya and the officer (whose identity has not been made public) exit their vehicles after pulling over. The officer tells Lyoya to get back in his car, but he remains outside, asking what he had done wrong.
As the bodycam video shows, the officer indicates that the plate doesn’t belong on that car. Next, after confirming Lyoya speaks English, he asks if he has a driver’s license. Moments later, after Lyoya has a brief exchange with the unidentified passenger of his vehicle, the officer puts his hands on Lyoya. Lyoya then flees with the officer now pursuing him on foot.
According to David A. Harris, the Sally Ann Semenko endowed chair and professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, after seeing the video, concluded a foot pursuit, in this instance, was not needed. “You have the vehicle right there,” Harris told The Grand Rapids Press. Therefore, implying that the vehicle identification number could’ve identified Lyoya.
“The idea you have to chase everybody down who tries to get away from you is simply false,” Harris said. “When the offense is wrong plate on the car, there’s no justification for it.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing the Lyoya family, was very critical of the officer’s actions as well. Crump pointed out he could have waited for backup once Lyoya ran but instead got “violent.”
The officer catches up and tackles him and tells him to stop resisting, and once Lyoya gets back up on his feet, the officer takes out a taser and shoots it two times. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom told the press that the taser deployed twice, but the prongs didn’t hit anyone.
Because the officer fired the taser twice, it was ineffective without being reloaded, Crump indicated. He also called out the officer for not following proper training by using the taser while so close to Lyoya, noting it was Lyoya’s “natural instinct” to try to stop from being stunned.
Crump’s observations about the two shots from the Taser are supported by those with more direct knowledge of the device. A former correctional officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections wrote a passionate post on social media about the tragedy: “A TASER CAN ONLY SHOOT ONE PAIR OF DARTS!!!! BEFORE SHOOTING AGAIN, THE DARTS HAVE TO BE CHANGED OR RECHARGED!!!!! With that being said, AGAIN PATRICK SHOULDNT HAVE GOT OUT THE CAR; HE SHOULDNT HAVE RESISTED BUT WHEN HE GRABBED THAT TASER, THE TASER WAS ALREADY SHOT AND COULDNT BE SHOT AGAIN WITHOUT THE CHANGE OF THE DARTS. Which means that the police officer was not in danger while on top of that man and that man face down. When you are also trained in ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT YOU ARE TRAINED TO SHOOT TO STOP. NOT SHOOT A MAN IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD WHILE HE’S ON TOP OF HIM!!!!!!!!”
However, a taser can still deliver a shock after the two cartridges are spent if a person holds it against someone and fires. What is known as a “drive stun” does not incapacitate the person but does hurt, according to Andrew J. Scott III, an expert in police practices and procedures and a former police chief in Boca Raton, Florida, who spoke with ABC News.
“Let go of the taser,” the officer is heard saying on his body cam video.
At this point, it is unclear what deactivated the officer’s body camera. But it suddenly shut off. Now, footage from a home security system across the street captures the remainder of the altercation. The two men wrestle on the front lawn. Then from that angle and video captured from a cell phone, Lyoya is fatally shot.
[Please note: This video from Wood TV8 does not show the moment of death.]
Sadly, this is not the first time I have addressed police misconduct. And I want to applaud Hip-Hop again for raising awareness about this issue. Unfortunately, this occurs enough to where many songs about this problem are well known.
But rather than rehash these very noteworthy records, I want to bring attention to one that perhaps not enough people have heard. In 2018, legendary Hip-Hop figure Bun B teamed up with Gary Clark Jr. for a song that appeared on Bun’s fifth album called “Blood On the Dash.” The 4:17 Big K.R.I.T. produced cut masterfully explains the perspectives of a private citizen being pulled over and the officer who stops him, each of their states of mind, and the circumstances that lead to their respective positions. The predicaments that they both find themselves in are fair and valid.
The officer who shot Patrick Lyoya is a killer who unnecessarily took a life without reasonable cause and should be punished for his wrongdoings to the fullest extent of the law. His escalation of a situation, failure to call for backup, disregard for proper training, and ultimately putting a bullet in the back of a man’s head is sickening.
I bring up “Blood on the Dash” to commend individuals like Police Chief Eric Winstrom, the former corrections officer, and law enforcement who want to help people and establish trust and understanding with the communities they serve and punish those who violate that trust by egregious wrongdoing. It is a step forward in a historically less open system of transparency and accountability.
And with guilty verdicts for the three people in the death of Ahmaud Arbery and the Derek Chauvin conviction for the killing of George Floyd still in recent memory, I hope that justice will continue to get served for all those who unjustifiably lost their lives. We still have a much longer way to go, but we have come a long way. At one of the peaceful protests in Grand Rapids, one can hear people in the streets saying, “This is what community sounds like!” And “Blood on the Dash” is a record that perfectly reflects the intersection in every community where those who are expected to live by the law meet with the ones who are expected to uphold it. May everyone make it home safely.