GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The shooting death of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer reignited important conversations in the community.
“It’s a tragedy and we still have to get up in our everyday lives while having this on our hearts in our mental,” says NAACP Youth Council President Ja’Von Fields.
The NAACP recently had a “know your rights” training with Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC).
“To go over all your rights, when you're involved in a police encounter, whether it's at your home, whether you're in the car or whether you're walking the streets,” says Fields.
And when it comes to being pulled over, Ja’Von says he and his family have discussed what he should do. “I usually turn off lights in the car, turn my car off; I keep my hands on the steering wheel,” he says.
Ja’Von tells us he also announces when he's reaching into the glove compartment for his license and registration.
“When you get pulled over, you obviously tense up,” describes youth council member Onesimus Pewee. “And it's like, you don't know where there would be a chance or a time where I don’t.”
Onesimus says that nervousness comes from knowing the history of policing in the Black community. With his parents being immigrants from Liberia, conversations about what to do when pulled over were brief. “They would say, like, ‘Yeah, just, you know, follow this, do what the police officer says,’” he recounts.
But for Ja’Von, instructions were given to him since the young age of 4. “My mother and my grandmother, my grandfather and my whole family tried to instill in me that they want me to come home safely, right?” he says. “And when you encountered by police comply, be polite. But whatever you do, try to stay calm.”
The moments leading up to Lyoya's death have been released in a number of videos by Grand Rapids police and remain under investigation.
For them, Onesimus and Ja’Von believe there was a language and cultural barrier, and a lot of fear.
“That might have been his thinking of this the safest way,” says Onesimus, “because he, like I said, who should be more scared in that situation?”
No matter the reason, they say it doesn't justify Lyoya’s life being taken.
“It was no threat to this officer,” says Ja’Von. “Any officers, especially GRPD, are trained to de-escalate a situation.”
And they can't help but wonder: Would Patrick be alive today if he looked differently?
“If Patrick was white, would the officers still have fear?” Ja’Von poses.
During an interview with FOX 17, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said it’s going to take a lot of hard work to earn back the trust of the Black community.
“We’ve been living in Grand Rapids, you know, our entire lives,” says Onesimus. “So yes, do your job; we need you to step up. You knew what you were doing when you stepped into this role.”
The NAACP Youth Council sent out a statement in response to Patrick Lyoya's death asking for full transparency from GRPD and MSP, for charges to be filed and information on the officer that took Patrick's life.