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The Black Freedom Struggle and the Justice4Patrick Movement in Grand Rapids

September 19, 2022

It has been five and a half months since the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya, with a bullet to the back of his head. The judicial system, which is part of the Prison Industrial Complex, has been dragging their feet on moving forward with the prosecution of Christopher Schurr, the ex-cop who killed Patrick on April 4th of this year.

Over the past five and one half months, there has been a tremendous amount of organizing, resistance and protesting over the murder of Patrick, coupled with demands to reduce the funding of the GRPD. 

During these five and one half months, there have been lots of criticism from various sectors, specifically criticism of those organizing under the banner of Justice4Patrick. Some of that criticism has come from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, the GRPD, Grand Rapids City Officials and pro-Police groups like Voice for the Badge. This is to be expected, since the Justice4Patrick movement is not just demanding justice for the Lyoya family, they are confronting the very way that the City of Grand Rapids is complicit with the GRPD, police funding and how policing is done in this city, specifically how policing disproportionately impact BIPOC residents.

At the same time there has also been plenty of criticism coming from groups that are generally identified as liberal, even progressive. The Kent County Democratic Party, for instance, made it known to their members to stay away from or to not participate in any of the actions that have been organized by those operating under the Justice4Patrick banner; the marches, protests and the ongoing presence of people challenging GR City officials during City Commission meetings. Democratic State Representative David LaGrand, in late July, posted on his FB page that the anger displayed by BIPOC people during City Commission meetings was “misplaced,” even unproductive. These comments are instructive, since they are coming from a politician that has continued to endorse more funding for policing, even funding for the recruitment of more cops. This call for more funding for cops has been a consistent message from the Democratic Party, from President Biden, to Senator Gary Peters, Gov. Whitmer, on down to State and County Democratic Party officials. 

Over the over again, those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement are counseled to be patient, to let the system work, to be nice and to not make too many demands. As someone who has explored the rich history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the US, this sort of counsel, which almost always comes from systems of power and those with more privilege, is very similar to the counsel that those involved in the Black Freedom Struggle have heard over the past two centuries. Whether we are talking about the 19th Century Abolitionist Movement, to those involved in the Reconstruction era, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, the Black Power era, or the Black Lives Matter era, these movements have always had significant push back from systems of power or from groups that are part of the non-profit/social service/religious communities, what some from refer to as buffer groups. Buffer groups are often organizations who practice Respectability Politics and prefer to work within systems of power, as opposed to those working to dismantle systems of power. 

Observations of the Justice4Patrick Movement

So as to be transparent, I have been part of the Justice4Patrick movement since it began. However, what I want to speak on now, is not about my own involvement, but what I have observed from those involved in this work. In addition, I want to say that I have been part of various social movements since I first moved to Grand Rapids in the early 1980s, such as the anti-Nuclear, Central American Solidarity, Housing Justice, anti-war, anti-Globalization, anti-racist, Food Justice, Environmental Justice and Immigrant Justice Movements that have come and gone over the past four decades. What follows are some of my observations about the Justice4Patrick movement, which includes the movement to Defund the GRPD.

  • There is a deep sense of commitment from many of those who have been part of the movement to demand justice for Patrick Lyoya and to Defund the GRPD. People show up, do all sorts of organizing work, which is often behind the scenes stuff, but is often the most important stuff that makes whatever action possible. This commitment has been both constant and consistent. In fact, the kind of commitment I have witnessed is often overlooked, because we don’t talk about what is actually necessary for social movements to have a real impact. It’s one thing to show up at a march, but it is another thing to organize a march, to get the word out, to make sure there is a clear message, that there is crowd safety, street medics, support people for transportation. This is what I mean by commitment.
  • A second thing that I have observed in recent months is very much related to people’s commitment, which is what one might call moral fortitude. It takes a great deal of physical, emotional and psychological energy to keep showing up and showing out. Think about it. Systems of power and oppression are constantly working against you, whether we are talking about cops, politicians, cop-apologist groups, and others who want to tear you down, bad mouth you or refer to you as unrealistic. Now, I know it is fashionable to think that those who are constantly in the street, engaging Mutual Aid work, confronting power or attending meetings, are people who are “career activists” who get paid by people like George Soros. The reality is, those who have consistently showed up are regular people, people with families, jobs, student loans, car payments, people who care for pets, people who work intheir gardens, people who grieve and those that dream of a better world.
  • A third thing that I have observed from those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement is that these are people who are single issue focused. More and more, particularly with younger organizers, I have witness a great deal of intersectionality in both their analysis and their practice. These are people who really care about their communities and have a constant desire to learn and grow in the practice of Collective Liberation. 
  • A final thing I have witnessed from people in recent months are those engaged in radical imagination. The great Puerto Rican poet, Martin Espada says, “No change for the good ever happens without it being imagined first, even if that change seems hopeless or impossible in the present.” Engaging in radical imagination means to imagine a world where there are no cops, where everyone has their basic needs met, where people can be free of doing meaningless work that only lines the pockets of capitalists or spend most of their days taking care of themselves and others. Radical Imagination can lead us to a world where care, compassion and joy are what we can all experience on a daily basis.

A great deal more could be said about what I have observed in recent months from the community of care and resistance that have been organizing around Justice4Patrick and the defunding of the GRPD. But let me leave you with this. The commitment, the moral fortitude, the intersectionality, and the radical imagination that is being practiced by the community of those operating under the banner of the Justice4Patrick movement are continuing the legacy of the Black Freedom Struggle here in Grand Rapids. We all should be supporting them! 

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