Skip to content

Legal briefs, the use of force laws, the function of policing, and media framing in the ongoing case of an ex-cop who murdered Patrick Lyoya

January 12, 2023

On Monday, the lawyers who are representing the former GRPD cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head while he was face down on the ground, Christopher Schurr, are asking Kent County Circuit Judge Christina Elmore to dismiss the case.

The lawyers representing Schurr submitted a 45 page brief, which people should read. Reading the brief is important, not because I agree with their arguments, but because we have to come to terms with the fact that laws in the US and in Michigan have primarily been created by those with political/financial power and those who benefit from the current system of Racial Capitalism. Let us not forget that the law in US history has endorsed the theft of Indigenous land, the enslavement of Black people, the exploitation of workers, the destruction of the environment, the lack of bodily autonomy, the criminalization of people who are LGBTQ, people with disabilities, the unhoused and undocumented immigrants. In fact, if the US wanted to use nuclear bombs, which indiscriminately murder, that would be perfectly legal.

We have to cone to terms with the fact that police unions make significant campaign contributions to elected officials and have their own lobbyists, so that they can have a say in how laws are crafted and passed, laws that provide them with all sorts of justification to killed people, particularly BIPOC people. We have to be familiar with the Use of Force Laws in Michigan, and we have to come to terms with ideas such as fleeing felonies, which is one of the main arguments used by the lawyers representing the ex-GRPD cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head while he was face down on the ground.

People I have met and have had conversations with since Patrick Lyoya was murdered on April 4, 2022, all have the capacity to reason that the decisions that then Officer Schurr made that day was not necessary at all. In fact, if we come to terms with the basic functioning of policing, particularly the policing of Black and Brown neighborhoods, then we will see the real purpose of Schurr being in that southeast neighborhood in the first place. Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, states: 

Well trained police following proper procedures 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 how the system is designed to operate, not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.

Having said that, what is Schurr had waited for other cops to show up, making it less likely that Lyoya would try to avoid cops, thus significantly reducing the possibility that Patrick would have been shot in the back of the head that day. Schurr didn’t wait because cops are always right and the public should always obey them no matter what. At least this is the mantra of police departments, elected officials, police apologists and most commercial media.

Speaking of the media, it is interesting that all three TV stations in Grand Rapids – WOODTV8, WZZM13 and WXMI 17  framed the story from the perspective of the lawyers representing Schurr. MLive also tended to frame the story around the arguments submitted in the brief by Schurr’s lawyers. For example, here is how WOODTV8 began their story: 

The attorneys for a former Grand Rapids police officer charged with murdering Patrick Lyoya last spring have asked the court to throw out the case. The 45-page motion to quash Chris Schurr’s bind-over to Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court and dismiss the second-degree murder charge against him argues that a lower court was wrong to move the case forward.

However, if we look at how this story was covered outside of Grand Rapids, we tend to get a different kind of coverage. Here is how the Detroit Free Press began their story:

A former Michigan police officer who shot a Black motorist in the back of the head during a struggle over a Taser should not have to stand trial, the defendant’s attorneys argued as they urged a judge to dismiss the case. Ex-Grand Rapids Officer Christopher Schurr is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Patrick Lyoya. On Monday, Schurr’s attorneys filed a motion seeking to toss out a ruling that a jury trial should be held in the case, news outlets reported. 

There is a fundamental difference in how it was framed and their use of language. The WOODTV8 story doesn’t say that Lyoya was Black in the opening comments, nor do they say he was shot in the back of the head. Framing the story can make the difference in the world, since it can have an impact on public perception. In addition, most of the local commercial news media used a picture of Schurr in the court room and only WXMI used a picture of Schurr in his orange jail jumpsuit juxtaposed with a picture of Patrick Lyoya. However, what if the local news used a picture of what actually happened to bring this case to court, a picture of Schurr on top of Lyoya just before the ex-cop shot him in the back of the head?

In the end, the lawyers representing the ex-cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head filed their brief, in part, as a public relations stunt, since they are well aware of how important it is to control the narrative in these cases, especially since policing has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, with 2022 being a year where the police have killed more civilians than in any year previously recorded in the US.

%d bloggers like this: