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US State-sponsored violence caused Patrick Lyoya’s family to flee the Congo, then it murdered him on the streets of Grand Rapids

April 10, 2022

Numerous news stories about the GRPD shooting of Patrick Lyoya, often provides a brief context for the Congolese family’s decision to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo and come to the US. Through an interpreter, the father of Patrick Lyoya has stated that his family, “moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United States to escape violence.”

The same news story from WXMI 17 also quoted Patrick’s father as saying, “I witnessed this thing in Africa. I never expected to see it happen in America.” Having some context on what the family of Patrick Lyoya has been through is critical for how the public navigates this story. However, what the coverage has not been including is how US foreign policy has contributed to the violence that so many Congolese have experienced in recent decades.

Like most of the Global South, the Congo went through a period of de-colonization after WWII. In the case of the Congo, the push for freedom from Belgium took place during the 1950s, with the country finally gaining their independence on June 20, 1960. The leader of the independence movement was Patrice Lumumba. 

At that time, the Congo was rich in mineral resources, so the Eisenhower Administration saw the independence of the Congo as a threat to US interests. The Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, gave the orders for Lumumba to be assassinated. However, before the CIA could act, Mobutu Sese Seko, Lumumba’s private secretary, intervened and removed Lumumba from power. Lumumba was then executed in January of 1961, with both the CIA and Mobutu being implicated in that assassination. (See The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Witte and this video entitled The Lumumba Assassination and CIA Accountability)

After the assassination of Lumumba, there were several years of civil war, but it 1965 Mobutu rose to power. Mobutu went on to rule the country for the next 30 years, with corruption and political violence as the norm. Mobutu also pocketed much of the country’s wealth and engaged in cruelty that even shocked his CIA handlers. (See Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII, by William Blum)

The US was regularly providing millions in military aid to the newly named Zaire, with Mobutu repressing political challengers and crushing resistance movements. By 1977,  political violence and civil resistance again plagued the country. Jimmy Carter was now in the White House, but he continued to provide military aid to Mobutu in the millions of dollars, in order to suppress political dissent and to protect US mining interests. 

The US support for the Mobutu dictatorship then continued through the Reagan/Bush/Clinton years, with devastating effects on the country, in terms of political repression to go along with systemic poverty for a large percentage of the Congolese population. 

During the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, there was the creation of what is known as AFRICOM, or the US African Command. AFRICOM created a significant network of US military bases throughout the continent. Nick Turse, the author of several books on US military operations in Africa, has done some of the best investigation on AFRICOM, most notably for the online site known as TomDispatch. Here is just one example of the work that Turse has produced on AFRICOM, along with a declassified map that Turse was able to access showing US military installations throughout Africa. 

The Trump and Biden administrations have continued AFRICOM, along with a constant supply of US military aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the US military aid and the US military presence throughout African has only continued to destabilized the continent, but it has protected the multinational corporate interests to continue to transfer wealth to the US and European countries. 

This is the real context for Congolese families, like the family of Patrick Lyoya, to flee the violence and poverty of the Congo and come to the US.

What is particularly sad, and enraging, about this reality, is that Patrick’s family fled the state-sponsored violence happening in the Congo, only to experience first hand the types of state-sponsored violence in the US that has disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC). 

It is important that we acknowledge that state-sponsored violence perpetrated by the US federal government sought to repress the aspirations of the Congolese people seeking freedom in their own country over the past 60 years, while the state-sponsored violence of the City of Grand Rapids/GRPD has taken the life of Patrick Lyoya.

It is also important that we see how these types of state violence are interwoven into a larger context of structural violence. Once we understand how these systems of oppression are interconnected, we can then organize to resist US Imperialism and Defund the GRPD. 

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