GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton demanded Friday that authorities publicly identify the Michigan officer who killed Patrick Lyoya, a Black man and native of Congo who was fatally shot in the back of the head after a struggle, saying, “We want his name!”
Sharpton, who spoke to the roughly 1,000 people gathered at Lyoya’s funeral in Grand Rapids, said authorities cannot set a precedent of withholding the names of officers who kill people. Police in Grand Rapids have not yet released the name of the officer who shot Lyoya on April 4 — the anniversary of the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — saying they would withhold the officer’s name unless he is charged with a crime.
“Every time a young Black man or woman is arrested in this town, you put their name all over the news. Every time we’re suspected of something, you put our name out there,” he said. “How dare you hold the name of a man that killed this man? We want his name!”
Mourners at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ, many of whom were wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts bearing Lyoya’s picture, stood in applause.
Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy at the request of family members, said Lyoya came to America in search of a better life and “ran into an America that we know too well.” He urged those gathered to continue to fight for justice, and called for a federal investigation into Lyoya’s killing.
“We can’t bring Patrick back. But we can bring justice in Patrick’s name,” he said.
The family’s lawyer, prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, also called for justice, saying “an unnamed police officer escalated a simple misdemeanor traffic stop into a deadly execution.” He said the issue is one of humanity.
“World leaders can’t condemn Russian soldiers shooting unarmed citizens in the back of the head in Ukraine, but then refuse to condemn police officers shooting unarmed Black citizens here in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” he said. “If it’s wrong that you do it in the Ukraine then it’s wrong that you do it in Grand Rapids.”
Sharpton and Crump have frequently joined with mourners to speak at the funerals of Black people killed by police. Sharpton’s eulogies have included those for George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning on race; Daunte Wright, who was shot during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis; Andre Hill, who was killed in Columbus, Ohio; and Andrew Brown Jr., who was killed in North Carolina.
Lyoya’s body lay in a white, open casket inside the church before the service began. Once the funeral started, the casket was closed and flag of Congo was draped over it. Below the casket, a sign bearing an image of the American flag and a photo of Lyoya said: “It’s our right to live,” in both English and Swahili. Lyoya’s parents and other family members wore black sweatshirts that had Lyoya’s picture on the front and the words “Justice for Patrick” along a sleeve.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas, sobbed as mourners filed in pay their respects, and tears ran down her cheek as live music played and a choir sang.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, 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.
“This is personal to me. This is my family. You are my family. This is my community,” she said. “And if I don’t stand up, who will?”
Other elected officials, such as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and state Sen. Winnie Brinks, were also in attendance.
Outside the church, mourners were given T-shirts that read “Justice For Patrick Lyoya” on one side and “It’s our Right to Live!” on the other. Some men removed their suit jackets and slipped the shirt on over their dress shirts.
Lyoya, who was unarmed, was face down on the ground when he was shot April 4. The officer, whose name has not been released, was on top of him and can be heard on video demanding that he take his hand off the officer’s Taser.
Earlier, the officer is heard saying that the license plate did not match the car Lyoya had been driving. Lyoya, a 26-year-old father of two, declined to get back into the vehicle as ordered, and a short foot chase ensued before the deadly struggle.
“How dare you pull your gun about some car tags?” Sharpton said during his eulogy.
Releasing the name of the officer who killed Lyoya has been a demand of family members and activists. On Thursday, Peter and Dorcas Lyoya, Patrick Lyoya’s parents, joined protesters in Lansing for a march and rally to again demand the officer’s name.
State police are investigating the shooting. The agency will forward findings to Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker for consideration of any charges. He has told the public to not expect a quick decision.
Attorneys for the Lyoya family have said they believe video collected and released by police shows Lyoya was resisting the officer, not fighting him. His parents have called the shooting an “execution.”