By Joseph Poulos and James Herold
After Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Becker announced his decision to charge Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr with second-degree murder, a charge punishable by up to life in prison, many in the community have voiced their opinions on the matter.
Schurr pled not guilty at his Friday arraignment on the second degree murder charge for fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on April 4, 2022 after a traffic stop.
As of June 10, 2022, Schurr had walked out of the Calhoun County Jail by posting 10 percent of the $100,000 cash or surety bond set by the court. Schurr is expected to be back on June 21, 2022 for a probable cause hearing.
Cle Jackson, President of the Greater Grand Rapids National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sat down with The Collegiate to discuss the case, police brutality, and the necessity of policy change going forward.
Jackson said the charge of second-degree murder is inconsequential, at least as far as it goes in bringing justice to Patrick Lyoya.
“Regardless of what charge has been brought forward,” Jackson said. “Patrick can never be resurrected from the dead, right? But I do think Christopher Becker, the (Kent County Prosecuting Attorney), his opinion was very necessary and it was…we, the NAACP, feel that it was totally appropriate with respect to the charge that he brought forward.”
Jackson said he isn’t too confident that the pending case has any potential for real change in our society regarding police involved shootings.
“It’s definitely not going to be the change that we need so desperately with respect to criminal justice reform and bettering the relationship between the community and the police,” Jackson said. “What we have to do, what will impact the change we need to see, we need to fight at all levels, state, federal and local. We need to be asking and continually forcing our U.S. Senate and Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act. And also here on the state level, we have a comprehensive package that addresses some of these issues on criminal justice reform. Our brothers and sisters on the Republican side of the house, have intentionally not made any movement on that bill. This is not a partisan issue. As I have said to other news media, we all want to go home. When I say ‘all’ I am including police officers and civilians. We also need to make sure that everybody’s rights are respected and protected.”
Even though Congress has failed to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, a bill that supports police reform, Jackson insists that the strategy must remain the same: lobby and enact policy change.
“One of the things we can do that has nothing to do with a potential conviction is we need to be lobbying, advocating and communicating with our state legislature to make some necessary changes in the state of Michigan and on the city level as well,” Jackson said. “We worked about a year and a half on the revised surveillance technology bill because we knew that with the execution of helicopters and the other technologies available, including ShotSpotter, eventually some of these other surveillance technologies will come. We need to be proactive to make sure there is policy in place to protect civilians. We were successful and it was an uphill battle and we had to be very strategic. Those types of things will bring about change, (not the conviction). You had the conviction in the George Floyd case, but still today, that George Floyd (Justice and Policing) Act has not been passed in the U.S. Congress.”
The bill Jackson refers to includes policy changes which would attach greater oversight to the Grand Rapids Police Department’s use and acquisition of surveillance technology. Pursuant to these revisions, the police would be required to file a report with the city four times a year regarding incidents where surveillance technology would be used. He believes it would be a step in the right direction in curbing unnecessary power in the police force.
As far as Jackson is concerned, raising awareness in the community is one of the most surefire ways to help stem the tide of police brutality and oppression.
“We have done a number of things here locally. We have been pushing forever, our whole position is policy-based, in order to change institutions and systems, it has to come from a policy level,” Jackson said. “There is a lot of lobbying on the hill through our folks out in D.C. Hilary (Shelton) is our Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. He heads up a lot of that work along with this team. I think–on the local level here–we have been very engaged in terms of raising any time from Honestie Hodges (to other cases), we are always raising those issues through awareness, education and community gatherings.”
Such gatherings promoted and held by the NAACP of Grand Rapids include collaborations with various other governmental agencies, including the FBI and more. Events like these help members of the community protect themselves through extensive knowledge of the rights they possess in the U.S.
“We just completed, in May, a ‘Know Your Rights’ session for the community educating people on what their rights are and responsibilities are,” Jackson said. “Every year we specifically target our youth and young adults. You know more young people, when it gets warmer, they are walking or riding bikes, driving around in cars (where they could be pulled over), and we want them to fully understand their rights. We did that session in May in partnership with the FBI, and we have worked with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and the Department of Labor and the ACLU as well.”
The future of lobbying for policy change is an optimistic one for Jackson. He and the NAACP look forward to seeking clarification from local officials on the ways in which Officer Schurr disregarded Lyoya’s civil rights as well as how he failed to follow procedure.
“We are going to be addressing a number of policy violations that Officer Schurr violated with the city Manager and the chief of police and the city attorney,” Jackson said. “We will be providing our input on suggested and recommended policy changes. We will be doing that in the very near future, and addressing some of the things that happened in this case.”
Jackson welcomes others to join the fight against police brutality and racism.
“Anyone is always welcome at membership meetings on the third Tuesday of every month from 7:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.,” Jackson said. “They are online, as we have not started meeting in person again yet. I would encourage folks to check out our livestreams on our social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
For more information on Jackson and the NAACP branch of Greater Grand Rapids, check out their official website here.