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Deconstructing another statement from an elected official regarding Patrick Lyoya, who is also running as a State Representative later this year

April 15, 2022

Yesterday, we posted an article that looked at one example from a Grand Rapids-based elected official and their weak/safe response to the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya.

Earlier today, I saw another state from a Kent County Commissioner and candidate for a State Representative seat. This statement, from Kent County Commissioner Phil Skaggs, was a sponsored post, meaning he paid money to post the statement. This makes sense, especially since he is running for a State Representative seat in West Michigan and wants to demonstrate to the public that he cares about what happened to Patrick Lyoya.

You can read his full statement at his State Representative page, but I believe it is important to not only deconstruct his statement, but offer up some information on how dismissive of Black and Brown people Skaggs has been in recent years, which would call into question his sincerity.

  • When Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE groups began working on ending the Kent County’s Contract with ICE in 2018, Commissioner Skaggs refused to endorse those efforts, but he did gaslight people and mock organizers for engaging in “bolshevik cosplay” (his words). 
  • When a GRPD liaison (Captain VanderKooi) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted ICE to have Jilmar Ramos-Gomez arrested, Skaggs never condemned the racist profiling of Jilmar, who was not only a citizen of the US, but had served in the US military.
  • More than one African American who has served on the Kent County Commission with fellow Democrat Phil Skaggs, has often referred to him as being a bully and a racist. Here is a Facebook link with an audio file, but the important part is the commentary by Commissioner Womack. Womack was threatened by Skaggs for challenging him to be the minority chair for the Democrats within the County Commission. According to Womack, Skaggs told him that he would ruin his political career if he ever challenged him again. Read it for yourself.
  • As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are many local politicians that have received funding from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, including Phil Skaggs.
  • In 2020, the Kent County Commission unanimously wanted to provide Care Act funding to Grand Rapids for the specific purpose of purchasing the ShotSpotter technology to be used by the GRPD, despite the overwhelming opposition from Black organizers and residents.

The Statement

Now I want to make some comments about Commissioner Skagg’s statement. In the second paragraph, Skaggs said that after watching the press conference he went down to the protest in front of the Grand Rapids Police headquarters, then listed what he heard, along with some of his actions.

First of all, I don’t recall Skaggs being at the protest. I was doing crowd safety and constantly walking around looking for GRPD uniformed officers, undercover cops and other racists who would come to do harm. I never saw Skaggs. However, if he was there, then his comments on what he heard and what he thinks are not what was happening at that protest. In addition, those who have been organizing these protests have been doing demonstrations for years against the GRPD, and someone those involved Skaggs has previously looked down upon because of their tactics.

Second, Skaggs never uses language like, “Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by a GRPD officer.” His statement is careful not to alienated potential voters in the district he in running in.

Third, most of the statement is based on what Skaggs thinks are the two things that the community can do to bring justice to the Lyoya family. One point he made was to have an outside/independent prosecutor, which is a legal tactic and it means putting faith in the system. The other suggestion he offered was to call for police reforms, but only after Skaggs praises the GRPD, saying they “work in very difficult conditions and are under a tremendous amount of pressure given the level of violence in our communities and the number of guns on our streets. I thank the officers who do their job well and keep us safe.” This kind of narrative is very reactionary and out of context. It also ignores the longstanding structural violence imposed on BIPOC communities in West MI. In addition, his suggestion means that he hasn’t been paying attention to the frustration, anger and fear the Black and Latinx communities have when it comes to local law enforcement and the numerous, even systemic ways that policing practices a form of White Supremacy against Black and Latinx people.

Lastly, towards the end of the statement, Skaggs says, “Throughout American history, change only happens when we elect government officials who are work toward justice and when people peacefully take action to show leaders the changes they want to see implemented.” This is a very White interpretation of US history. Elected officials have overwhelmingly only ever done the will of the people when they are forced to. In addition, to suggest that change only came about through peaceful means in just a god damn lie. People who were enslaved often freed themselves by killing those who enslaved them and burned the fucking plantation. In fact, the Black Freedom Struggle has always had an armed wing throughout history, that often work in concert with the more non-violent branch of that centuries long movement. See the books Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence, by Kellie Carter Jackson, and, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, by Charles Cobb Jr. 

As we noted in yesterday’s post, if you are receiving responses from elected officials who have been included (like Skaggs) in the Action Network letter from over 190,000 people, think before you like it, since it is impossible for politicians to really care about the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya, especially when they are either receiving political contributions from police unions, and/or they are voting for or endorsing police targeting Black and Latinx communities. 

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