GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters marched through the streets of downtown and continued their call for justice Thursday following the announcement that the officer who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya during a traffic stop in Grand Rapids will be charged with second-degree murder.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced Thursday that his office had filed the charge against Officer Chris Schurr. If convicted, the 31-year-old faces up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Becker said Schurr had turned himself in. Arraignment was scheduled for Friday. The Grand Rapids Police Department has started the process to fire him.
About five minutes before his announcement, Becker called Lyoya’s family to tell him his decision, a Lyoya family attorney said.
His family is asking those protesting to do so peacefully.
“This family has been absolutely devastated by the loss of their son and brother, and the last thing they want is for anyone else to get hurt,” attorney Ven Johnson, who is representing the Lyoya family, said at he sat next to Lyoya’s father at a news conference in Detroit just after the prosecutor announced the charge. “Please honor Patrick if you choose to demonstrate, protest or whatever, please do so peacefully. And we want no one else to be injured or killed.”
Several dozen people took to the streets of Grand Rapids following the announcement. A rally was planned in downtown for 5 p.m. regardless of what Becker’s decision was.
Activists started gathering around 4:30 p.m. in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department, where there have been barricades for the past couple of weeks.
After gathering, they started marching through the streets of downtown. They chanted, calling for “justice for Patrick.”
They eventually made their way back to the GRPD headquarters, where they continued to chant and held a moment of silence. The group then marched down to Grand Rapids City Hall near Calder Plaza.
Many said they were surprised by the decision but reiterated that there has not been a conviction in court. They said they don’t think Schurr should get a chance for parole.
“I feel like it’s a happy day, justice for Patrick, but we need first-degree murder, life without parole, by any means because they took my brother’s life just like that,” Jimmy Barwan, a friend of Lyoya who was at the demonstration, told News 8. “We’re not going to stop, we’re still going to be out here until we get justice.”
The demonstrators said activists were instrumental in cit and county leaders taking this step toward justice.
They also called for changes to GRPD policy in general, saying they intend to keep fighting for it until it happens.
NAACP PRESIDENT ‘SHOCKED’ BY CHARGE
Calling the charge “appropriate,” Cle Jackson, the president of the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, thanked Becker for his “due diligence” in considering the case.
He said he was shocked by the decision.
“I was shocked, to be quite honest. I was shocked, I was absolutely shocked. Because I actually didn’t expect that,” Jackson said. “I knew it should happen but I did not expect it, for a number of reasons.”
Jackson also said Becker showed “fortitude” in issuing the charge.
The NAACP stands with the Lyoya family, he said.
“I want to thank the Lyoya family for their patience in their time of grief in this horrific situation,” Jackson said. “We stand in solidarity with Patrick’s family in asking for peaceful demonstrations and protests. That’s what the family has asked for since the very beginning of this, and we stand still in solidary with them.”
He asked protesters to remain peaceful.
“I always tell people, we will never win the war on the streets, so we have to break systemic systems down and institutions down from a policy level,” Jackson said. “I want to send that out to all of the protesters: We will never win the war on the street. It’s fine to protest, but it has to be peaceful, it has to be strategic.”
The fight is now in the court system, he said, saying the NAACP hopes Schurr will ultimately be convicted.
“We are happy with the decision to indict Officer Christopher Schurr for the unjustified murder of Patrick Lyoya. There have been too many incidents where Black and brown lives have been lost at the hands of law enforcement, whose number one priority should be to protect and serve all citizens,” he said. “Although this is a step in the right direction, we hope that all involved in this next phase will be unbiased and ultimately, Officer Christopher Schurr will be convicted for his heinous actions.”
He said the NAACP would continue to work with local elected officials on police reforms to “prevent more tragedies like this from happening.”
“I think this sends a strong message,” he said. “I hope that it sends a strong message that, ‘Ultimately your job is to protect and serve.'”
The NAACP will send a letter on Friday asking the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a “full pattern and practice investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department,” Jackson said.
He said they will also be meeting with city leaders, including Grand Rapids Police Department Eric Winstrom and Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington, to discus policy violations.
FAITH LEADERS CALL FOR SYSTEMIC CHANGE
A group of faith leaders who watched the announcement said they hope that charges will bring about change.
“A conviction with no culture change in law enforcement is still a defeat,” Pastor Jerry Bishop with Lifequest Ministries said. “A conviction is not advancing our cause without a renovation of the entire system, from hiring, training, policing, a nonconviction will totally change the outlook of West Michigan like no other single act.”
He said they remain “hopeful.”
“I think this is a beginning for hope for systemic change, but I think we have to remain hopeful that this trial ends with what we want in order for us to facilitate the necessary change that we’ve been asking for decades now,” he said.
Pastor Kizombo Kalumbula with the Tabernacle Community Church, who knew Lyoya, said he has “mixed emotions” about the announcement.
“It’s emotional on many levels. Not only did I know Patrick, I worked with Patrick’s pastor,” he said. “The Congolese community is traumatized, has been traumatized, so this carries with it a heavy toll on the whole community, the West Michigan, Grand Rapids community, but specifically the Congolese community. And I carry that as well.”
Pastor Daniel Smith with the Messiah Baptist Church also called for systemic change.
“I think it’s like sprinkling sugar on a cake when you forgot to put sugar in the mix,” Smith said. “It’s almost like we’re pruning a tree but not addressing the root. We still have systemic issues in our specific … in this city, in the Grand Rapids police unit. That will give an officer like Schurr the thought process that this process was OK. I think that there’s training that needs to be addressed, there’s some systemic issues that need to be addressed.”
Bishop Dennis McMurray of Renaissance Church of God in Christ, where Lyoya’s funeral was held, said he looks to Jesus for justice.
“I looked at it from a Biblical perspective. A Biblical perspective means, look at the injustices that happened in the Bible centuries ago, those same injustices happened during the days of Jesus, those same injustices are happening now,” he said. “So I look at Hebrews … 13:8, Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday, today and forevermore. Which says that, yesterday, his prescription for justice was through him. Today, the prescription for justice is through him, tomorrow the prescription for justice is through him. And his death, the way he was crucified, the way he was hung out for justice, for injustice, is entrenched in the same scenario.”
McMuray called for people to be “transparent and honest.”
“Honesty is the best policy right now. That’s what God calls us to do, is tell the truth,” he said. “We have to tell the truth with mouths of compassion, at the same time with mouths of understanding. We can’t throw understanding out the window, it’s just like throwing the baby out with the bath water. We have to be in tune with both sides of the spectrum so that people can understand we have a human heart, as well.”
Pastor Jathan Austin with Bethel Empowerment Church said his “heart grieves” for Schurr’s wife and children.
“This is now children that are having to watch their father go through one of the most awful times of their life,” he said. “My prayer is that the mom would become whole, become healed in this matter, reconcile in this issue to then do some introspective looking of how then do I teach my children now not to hate black and brown people because of what has happened because of a Black and brown situation, or it will perpetuate a vicious cycle even in her own family.”
— News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder and Whitney Burney contributed to this report.