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Sanitized language and deflection were the dominant themes of the Grand Rapids Release the Video Press Conference

April 14, 2022

Most of the video has now been released involving the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya. At yesterday’s Press Conference, City Manager Mark Washington, Brandon Davis with the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, and Police Chief Eric Winstrom continued to engage in a public relations spin.

What follows are a running list of observations and commentary on the April 13 Press Conference. 

The Press Conference is entitled, GRPD Critical Incident Briefing. Systems of power always use language that protects them and avoids truth telling.

City Manager Mark Washington speaks first and refers to the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya as an unfortunate incident. Unfortunate is a term you use to describe a pair of white dress shoes, not the police killing of a young Black man. 

Washington then congratulates Chief Winstrom for his transparency and willingness to release the video. Maybe I am a bit naive on this matter, but aren’t all public officials supposed to practice transparency as a central part of their job?

Brandon Davis also felt compelled to praise Winstom’s transparency. 

Chief Winstrom thanks the GRPD for their “sacrifice” and coming to work every day during these difficult times. Cops are always looking out for cops. 

Winstrom then presents a mini-powerpoint before getting to the video, again referring to the GRPD officer shooting and killing Patrick Lyoya as an “incident.” 

A few thoughts on the video:

  1. This was a petty infraction, with a mismatched license plate.
  2. The cop escalated the conflict with Patrick Lyoya from the very get go, first telling him to get back into his car, mostly yelling at him, then tackling him, kneeing him, punching him and using a taser on him before shooting him in the back of the head.
  3. Since the GRPD officer was motivated by the mismatched license plate issue, he could have decided to de-escalate the situation, walk away from it or wait for back up. He did none of those things.

Here is what the law in Michigan says about use of force:

OBJECTIVELY REASONABLE USE OF FORCE 

  • Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a law enforcement officer may only use such force as is “objectively reasonable” under all of the circumstances. The standard that courts will use to examine whether the use of force is constitutional was first set forth in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), and expanded by subsequent court cases. The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable law enforcement officer on the scene at the moment the force was used, rather than with 20/20 vision of hindsight. The reasonableness must account for the fact that law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. 
  • Reasonableness will be determined by balancing the nature and quality of the intrusions with the countervailing governmental interests. The question is whether the law enforcement officer’s actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer. Objective factors will determine the reasonableness of force including, but not limited to, the severity of the crime, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the law enforcement officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. 
  • Enforcement members shall only use force which is objectively reasonable under the totality of the facts and circumstances to overcome a subject’s resistance, to make an arrest, or maintain proper custody of a prisoner, when a resisting subject de-escalates his/her resistance, the enforcement member shall also de-escalate the amount of force used proportionately

The use of force law is purposely written to be vague, thus allowing lots of latitude for interpretation of when it is appropriate for cops to use deadly force. 

Before Chief Winstrom answers questions from reporters, Mark Washington speaks again and congratulates City Commissioners and the Mayor for being at the Press Conference. Isn’t this their job? 

Washington then says that he wanted to acknowledge all of the voices that have been calling for the release of the video, and “all the demonstrations have been peaceful.” This is such a shitty and condescending word to use when it comes to the public. When people in power say that demonstrators were peaceful, it primarily means that they did not disrupt business as usual. I wrote about the constant use of the phrase peaceful protest in a post just after the May 2020 uprising in Grand Rapids, in an article entitled, Is there really any such thing as a Peaceful Protest?

Washington also thanks “community partners” that have organized the protests, pointing to Kent County Commissioner Womack and community pastors. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that most of the protests that have been organized in recent years, including the two before the Video Release Press Conference, were young Black organizers. These are the people that Washington should be thanking, but won’t, since they have been holding his feet to the fire for several years now.

During the Q & A, Chief Winstrom kept repeating that he will not address that question until the investigation is complete.

Someone with the Michigan National Action Network then says that the Rev. Al Sharpton will be coming to Grand Rapids. This man then commends the Grand Rapids City Officials for their openness and transparency.

The fact that Rev. Sharpton is coming to Grand Rapids should be scrutinized. Sharpton  was criticized sharply by the young Black organizers in Ferguson, Missouri after the police murder of Michael Brown. Those young Black organizers who did the hard on the ground work to challenge policing in Ferguson, were disrespected by Sharpton. Here is an excerpt from an article from Ebony entitled, And the young ones shall lead them, the Ferguson rebellion and the crisis in Black Leadership.

Meanwhile, traditional civil rights institutions and religious leaders failed to understand the foment of the younger generation. Older leaders called for protester restraint and highlighted black-on-black crime, affirming popular notions of black pathology. Many condemned the vicious policing during the Ferguson Rebellion as an afterthought – further alienating a dispossessed generation.   On more than one occasion high profile black leaders denounced black youth who took to the street as thugs, rioters and looters.  A significant portion of Rev. Al Sharpton’s sermon during Mike Brown’s funeral service was devoted to criticizing a generation of young blacks, painting them as gun-toting thugs who have “ghetto pity parties”. The NAACP was silent for nearly three days following Brown’s killing and the subsequent social unrest.  The venerable civil rights’ organization’s first comment on the ugly affair came in the form of a quickly deleted tweet:  “When someone outside of our race commits murder we want upheaval, but we need same for all murder.” This ill-fated statement resulted in a swift social media backlash, further underscoring the distance between the historic civil rights organization and a younger generation.

In the end, this Press Conference, like the one held last week, was crafted to make Grand Rapids City Officials appear humane and sensitive, with lots of self-congratulatory comments, along with sanitized language around the police killing of Patrick Lyoya.

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