Takeaway’s from a tragedy

Witnessing last week’s situation unfold in Grand Rapids has opened my eyes to several different realities about police violence in the United States.

When watching situations in Minnesota or Ferguson, I thought that there was no way this type of situation could occur so close to home. Watching footage of an unarmed Black man being killed by police in an area near where I played Thanksgiving football last year caused me to realize that this can happen anywhere.

I desperately wanted to understand why and how this could have happened. While the situation is still under investigation, I hate making assumptions. Still, from my viewpoint, this incident should have never escalated to the point where a gunshot was needed.

While the investigation is still pending, the footage makes it appear that Lyoya never threatened this officer’s life; it didn’t seem like the situation was out of the officer’s control. Yes, adrenaline was in the air between both men. Yet an officer’s training should be to use his gun as a last resort or if they feel their life is threatened.

The officer had the upper hand, yet he still felt threatened enough to pull the trigger. According to the Washington Post’s Police Shootings database, Lyoya joined 30 unarmed Americans who police have killed in the last year.

The more I read and watched, I debated about where I stood with officers. I 100% respect the job they do; I know that I could never step into their shoes. Many officers witness horrific events and have to respond to terrible crises’. When violence takes place in our country, they are usually trying to protect us. Yet, a few officers have caused a significant level of distrust of officers in the eyes of the public.

This incident came up as I debated with family members who asked me how it is fair for officers to be viewed negatively when only a few situations showed apparent unneeded violence. I responded with this:

It isn’t fair, but it is also not fair that groups of people are often stigmatized by society, though most groups of people are good. Yet, many people in this country are mistreated because of long-standing stigmas. It is shocking and sad, yet it will surely happen again if the correct actions aren’t taken within the police force. I’m hopeful that GRPD is taking the proper steps.

I applaud the police chief for being open and transparent about the situation. The chief could’ve held everything close to his chest and prayed that this would blow over. He chose the more difficult route, which impressed me, especially for a chief that has been on the job for a little over a month.

The only issue I have about the transparency is the officer’s body camera. I still do not understand how the body camera on the officer registered enough pressure to shut off. Of the 30 unarmed people killed in the last year, 20 of these incidents did not have body camera footage. While we see the majority of the incident, if we did not have the footage shot from a cell phone, we would not know with a clear view what happened.

As I reflect on this situation, I believe there needs to be a study on improving de-escalation and communication tactics. This officer should not have been escalating the situation. There is no reason this needed to be a close-quarter wrestling match. The officer had the car and the friend already close if the man ran. The officer could have fired the taser from a distance. This situation should not have resulted in an execution-style shooting.

There are ways to have these interactions without gunfire. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, countries like England and Wales statistically have .5 individuals killed by police per 10 million people in a given year. That statistic rises to 33.5 people per 10 million people in the United States. While I fully understand that the difference in gun laws between countries allows for different policies among individual countries, there has to be some training and knowledge that we can gain from these countries to help create policies that lead to more de-escalations.

I want to clarify that this is not an attack on our police force. Many officers do a fantastic job protecting us, yet there is always room to improve and learn. Hopefully, the GRPD will take this as an opportunity to learn how better to handle situations such as this in the future.