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MLive article on Officer Christopher Schurr normalizes White Supremacy and White Saviorism

May 23, 2022

Last Thursday, MLive posted an article with the headline, Officer Christopher Schurr went from college athlete to cop before killing Patrick Lyoya. 

I have seen reactions on social media to this MLive article, accusing MLive of posting a fluff piece and attempting to humanize GRPD officer Christopher Schurr, the cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head.

Reading the MLive article is instructive, since it uses language referring to Officer Schurr such as:

  • Ideal candidate
  • Helping the less fortunate
  • Service-minded
  • Mission trips
  • Serving the community
  • A good person
  • Not a monster
  • Police commendations

All of these terms and phrases are seen by the dominant culture as affirmation or positive reflections on the character of a person. However, through a critical lens, terms like helping the less fortunate, service minded and mission trips often are variations of White Saviorism. 

The MLive article does cite several people, all of whom know Christopher Schurr. There were people that Schurr went to college with, an excerpt from the GRPOA statement defending Schurr, and John Riley, a former GRPD cop who now runs a business called Gentle Response Conflict/De-escalation Training.

The former college students who knew Schurr both said he had a temperament that they didn’t think was compatible with being a police officer. Now, I’m not sure what these sources think the temperament of a cop should be, but including their comments does help readers in making any real determinations about the character of the man who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head.

I do not disagree with many of the reactions that people have had about the MLive article centering the life of Christopher Schurr, but I think there is another way to look at the significance of the article.

There are several references used to describe Schurr that are positive and affirming, which on the surface are an attempt to humanize this cop. However, what I think is really happening in the MLive story is that it normalizes what White Supremacy looks like. 

Quite often, in reporting about a serial killer or men who are charged with rape or domestic abuse, people interviewed for those stories will regularly say, “he was such a nice guy” or “he seemed like a normal person.” This is because men who rape or assault women don’t generally demonstrate some outward tendency to harm women. This is affirmed by the fact that most men who harm women are the most likely to be the men that women know – co-workers, neighbors, relatives, the pastor, etc. The same dynamic occurs with those who are labeled as racists. You don’t need to be a member fo the KKK or some other White Nationalist group. White Supremacy is embedded in all of our major institutions, like policing. Officer Schurr did what he did to Patrick Lyoya, because of the training he had, not in spite of it. As Alex Vitale states in his important book, The End of Policing:

“Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is now the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.”

The Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association statement affirms this reality, as does the person who gets the last word in the mLive article.

John Riley, the founder of Gentle Response Conflict/De-escalation Training said, “said he believes Schurr followed his training properly and did everything he could to try to de-escalate the situation, including telling Lyoya to stop resisting several times.” In fact, Riley had posted three separate opinion pieces about the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya on his website. The first entry is a lengthy argument that Officer Schurr did follow de-escalation protocol, stating: 

Argue, debate, and pontificate whether or not the shooting was righteous and justified, but do not dare say the officer did not try to successfully and effectively de-escalate and control the situation, first verbally and then physically.  Mr. Lyoya’s significant contributing factor to this tragic incident was his own behavior and actions, which guided, lead and turned what would have been a ticket and a few hours in jail into a fatal shooting.

In the second blog post, John Riley is talking about misconceptions of what de-escalation is, stating:

2 misconceptions from the tragic OIS in Grand Rapids.  I point out and emphasize in my seminars that there are no magic words or phrases that will just “de-escalate” a person or situation. The other person MUST be able to allow themselves to be de-escalated, and in this tragic incident was a man who clearly did not want to de-escalate, though that officer frantically, then desperately tried very hard to.

In the third, and finally blog post from Riley, where he continues to blame Patrick Lyoya for his own death, he states:

In this sad, tragic incident, an intoxicated driver, whose judgement and decision making abilities are further affected by the amount of alcohol he consumed, chose to physically resist lawful authority.  The officer is legally obligated to make an attempt to detain the driver because it’s his job, and can be heard on his body cam saying 7 to 8 times, “Stop!”.  Had Patrick Lyoya simply stopped, and surrendered to lawful authority, like his record shows he has done so in the past, the officer would not have found himself in a situation where he believed he was in danger of great bodily harm or death.

The fact that MLive used John Riley as a source and didn’t question or challenge his take on what Officer Schurr did to Patrick Lyoya, further demonstrates how White Supremacy and Structural Racism are normalized in our society. 

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