Protests erupt in Michigan after a Black man is killed by police during a traffic stop

A Grand Rapids, Michigan police officer has been put on paid leave after killing a Black man who tried to flee a traffic stop April 4. Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year old Congolese immigrant, was shot in the head during a struggle with the officer. Protests erupted in the city Wednesday after a video of the incident was released. Bridge Detroit reporter Bryce Huffman joins William Brangham to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another unarmed Black man has been shot and killed by police, this time in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    William Brangham has the latest on this case and the ongoing questions about police use of force.

  • William Brangham:

    Twenty-six-year-old Patrick Lyoya, a Congolese immigrant, was killed April 4 by a Grand Rapids police officer, after Lyoya tried to run from a traffic stop.

    There was a struggle and, as this cell phone video of the incident shows, the officer on top of Lyoya pulls his gun and shoots him in the head. No other weapons were found at the scene.

    Last night, protests erupted in Grand Rapids after the release of this video. The officer has been put on paid leave, pending an investigation.

    Today, at a press conference, Lyoya's father, Peter, described his emotions.

    Peter Lyoya, Father of Patrick Lyoya (through translator): My son — my life was Patrick, my son. I was thinking that Patrick would take my place.

    And to see that my son has been killed like an animal by this police officer, to see this video they show, I see that I have no life. I see my heart being broken. I am asking for justice.

  • William Brangham:

    And joining me now from Grand Rapids is Bryce Huffman. He's a reporter for the nonprofit news organization BridgeDetroit. And he's been covering the Grand Rapids area for years.

    Bryce, thank you very much for being here.

    We understand that this officer has been put on paid leave. Can you give us a little sense, what else is happening with this investigation right now?

  • Bryce Huffman, BridgeDetroit:

    Right now, the Michigan State Police are investigating the incident. They are investigating whether or not the officer did anything wrong.

    Obviously, people who have seen the video will come to their own conclusion on that. But, right now, the Grand Rapids Police Apartment is really deferring a lot of questions to the Michigan State Police as the investigation is still ongoing.

  • William Brangham:

    Can you tell us a little more about Patrick and the Congolese community that he lives in?

  • Bryce Huffman:

    Yes.

    So, Grand Rapids has a nice little Congolese community of about 7,000 to 8,000 people. Most of them are refugees, so they came here fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And that is exactly why Lyoya's family came here to Grand Rapids in 2014.

    There is not a whole lot that is known about his personal life at this point. We know that he has a few brothers and a sister. We know that his family is here, and they are grieving. And we also know that, now that he has passed, his family is preparing the funeral arrangements as we speak.

  • William Brangham:

    I understand you were at that press conference today. We heard little bit from that father, who is obviously just in a stunned sense of grief.

    Do you have a sense from today what the family would like to see done? What are they asking for?

  • Bryce Huffman:

    They are asking for a couple of things.

    Broadly, they want justice. They want the police officer's name to be released. They want to understand the history of the officer who took their son from them. And they also want the police department to be held accountable for that.

    At the press conference, there were lots of reporters there asking questions. One of the many things that a lot of us wanted to know is just what the family want to see done with the police department going forward. And these are things that are kind of still in the early stages, but they want to see the police department eventually change to a point where no one else has to lose their life like Patrick did.

  • William Brangham:

    You mentioned that the police have not been saying that much, but the video that we have all seen shows Lyoya did struggle with the police officer and tried to get away.

    But there seems to be no evidence on the video that he was attacking the police officer in any way. What have the police said about this officer's actions?

  • Bryce Huffman:

    So far, they haven't really said much about the actions. They say that it is regrettable. They say that it's a tragic incident.

    But they have not come out and said that the officer did something undeniably wrong, but they also haven't tried to justify the officer's actions by saying he was defending himself or others.

    What we do know from the video is that there was a bit of a struggle. And during that struggle, the officer's body-worn camera was turned off. The police chief here, police Chief Winstrom, believes it was turned off because it was just being pushed during the struggle.

    But we still don't know a lead about the events that occurred off-screen of the video. We don't really know yet if the officer will be charged with anything. A lot of these things are still just too early to say.

  • William Brangham:

    As I mentioned, you have been covering the Grand Rapids area for a very long time.

    And I understand that this is not the first time that the minority community there feels like the police have treated them badly.

  • Bryce Huffman:

    Yes.

    So, in Grand Rapids, in 2017, there was a traffic study done that found that Black motorists are twice as likely to get pulled over as white motorists, even though, at the time, the Black population was only about 14 percent of the city's population of around 200,000 residents.

    We also saw that, in 2017, there were incidents where unarmed children were held at gunpoint by officers, handcuffed by officers, searched by officers. And these sorts of events, where unarmed children were being mistreated by the police, they occurred multiple times in a row.

    And the police department, they had outside consulting firms come in to try to help them remediate that problem. But as, obviously, we can see by what happened to Patrick, those efforts were not enough.

  • William Brangham:

    And, lastly, I understand that there's a protest going on there tonight.

    Can you give us a sense? Do you think that that's going to continue, continue in the days ahead?

  • Bryce Huffman:

    Yes, as you said, there's a protest happening right now.

    I imagine, much like in 2020, after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, there are going to be protests all throughout the weekend, most likely, here in Grand Rapids, potentially well into next week or beyond, because of this was an incident that happened right here in Grand Rapids.

    But like we saw in 2020 — or, I should say, unlike we saw in 2020, where some of those protests did get a little violent and there was property destruction, the protests so far had been really peaceful. And the Lyoya family actually wants it to stay that way. They want their son to be remembered for being a peaceful person, and not inspiring or inciting violence.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Bryce Huffman, journalist with BridgeDetroit, thank you so much for being here.

  • Bryce Huffman:

    Thanks for having me.

Listen to this Segment