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The awful response I received from Sen. Peters about the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya

August 22, 2022

Two weeks ago, GRIID posted an article about how none of the Democratic Party candidates from West Michigan, who will participate in the November 2022 elections, is advocating that the GRPD or any law enforcement agency be defunded.

The Republicans are constantly claiming that the Democratic Party supports defunding, but this just isn’t the case. Even Democrats that are safely holding office for several more years, like Senator Gary Peters, are unwilling to support the Movement for Black Lives, which has been calling for the defunding of the police since 2020.

There have been numerous online petitions and efforts to communicate to elected officials since the GRPD shot and killed Patrick Lyoya on April 4th. The most recent effort to send messages came in June, right around the same time that the Kent County Prosecutor announced that he was charging former-GRPD office Christopher Schurr with second degree murder. The June online petition that went through change.org, had a list of demands and it was sent to City & County Commissioners, State elected officials from West Michigan, the 3rd Congressional Representative and the 2 Michigan Senators. On Friday, some 6 weeks after the message was sent to Senator Gary Peters, he responded with the following message: 

Thank you for contacting me about the shooting of Patrick Lyoya. I appreciate you taking the time to express your views. Hearing directly from Michiganders like you helps inform me of the issues that matter to our state. I’m so grateful for your input.

     On Monday, April 4, 2022, Patrick Lyoya was shot to death by a Grand Rapids police officer attempting to arrest him after a traffic stop. While the officer was charged with second-degree murder, nothing can bring back Patrick Lyoya or take away the pain and trauma experienced by his family.

     Too many Americans, especially African Americans, are dying senselessly. We must come together to address systemic issues in order to change these unjust circumstances. Additionally, we must make needed reforms to policing, support our law enforcement officers—who serve every day—and build trust between them and the communities they are sworn to protect. I have supported commonsense bills to improve police training and hold officers accountable for their actions. I am a cosponsor of the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which would incentivize states to enact laws requiring the independent investigation and prosecution of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. I am also a cosponsor of the Excessive Force Prevention Act, which would prohibit the use of chokeholds under federal civil rights law. We must provide law enforcement with the necessary training.

     While I’m very disappointed negotiations on criminal justice and policing legislation in the Senate broke down, I’m continuing to press for a bipartisan path forward on needed reforms. That is why I introduced the bipartisan Strong Communities Act, which advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate. My bill addresses both the issue of attracting diverse recruits to enter our law enforcement agencies as well as the lack of funding at the local level. By increasing the recruitment of public safety officers through their own communities, we can help building stronger, lasting relationships. This legislation would provide federal grants for local law enforcement recruits and officers who agree to serve in a law enforcement agency in their communities. Please be assured I remain committed to working with my colleagues to pass meaningful reforms.

Deconstructing Senator Peters’ response

The first 2 short paragraphs are the obligatory response to the message that came from the Justice4Patrick Movement. Senator Peters is sorry about what happened to Patrick Lyoya, but the Michigan Senator makes sure that he doesn’t say exactly how the GRPD cop killed Patrick Lyoya – Patrick was face down on the ground and the GRPD cop was sitting on top of Patrick, then shot him in the back of the head, execution style.

Senator Peters then spends the rest of his written response talking about legislation he introduced in 2020, the Strong Communities Act, which actually provides more funding for policing, even money to recruit more people to become cops across the country. 

This legislation that Senator Peters talks about in his letter does two main things. First, it further legitimizes the notion of community policing as a positive way of doing policing. However, as Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing notes:

The research shows that community policing does not empower communities in meaningful ways. It expands police power, but does nothing to reduce the burden of overpricing on people of color and the poor. 

The second thing that this legislation does is offer financial incentives to recruit news cops and then have them live in the neighborhood they serve for at least 4 years. Police reform groups have long advocated that police officers should live in the communities that they serve. The group Communities United Against Police Brutality, has this response to such a proposal:

“Throughout our research, we have never encountered a shred of evidence that requiring or incentivizing police officers to live in the communities in which they work has any positive effect on the quality of policing,”

A third and final argument for why Senator Peters’ Strong Communities Act is deeply troubling, is the fact that it has received the endorsement from the largest and oldest police organization in the US, the National Fraternal Order of Police.

The National Fraternal Order of Police has a long history of supporting police departments across the US that have a particularly brutal history, has a leadership that is all white, spends millions on lobbying Congress and endorsed Donald Trump in 2016.

For those who want to see systemic change around policing, they cannot be seduced by language of community policing and the notion that cops who live in the communities where they work will make a difference. It just doesn’t matter to people who are harassed, arrested, tasered or beaten by cops, that they live in the same neighborhood as the people they are oppressing.

We all should see this written response to the community-based demands (Senator Peters never addressed any of the demands) in the aftermath of the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya as another example how the Democratic Party is equally committed to defending police departments around the country. And while the Democrats don’t use the GOP’s sophomoric slogan, Back the Blue, their legislative proposals are essentially the same, with calls for more funding for police departments and recruiting of new cops. Considering what we have seen in recent years from Senator Peters, I don’t know how else to describe him, other than by calling him a Police Apologist.

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