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Opinion Another Black man killed by police: When is enough enough?

Demonstrators protesting the police killing of Patrick Lyoya march through Grand Rapids, Mich., on April 16. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It has been two years since the video of George Floyd gasping for air under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer horrified a nation. How could such a needless and brutal death occur? That same question is being asked once again after the release of graphic videos showing the death of another Black man at the hands of another White police officer, shot in the back of the head as he was on the ground. Another question must be asked: When will enough be enough?

Police in Grand Rapids, Mich., have released videos of the deadly April 4 encounter in which Patrick Lyoya, 26, was shot to death by an unidentified police officer. Mr. Lyoya had been pulled over in a residential neighborhood just after 8 a.m. on a traffic stop — the license plate didn’t match the car. The videos, a collection of dash-cam footage, body-cam footage, home-security-camera and cellphone video, show an interaction of approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Mr. Lyoya steps out of his car and appears confused, asking what he did wrong. After a brief exchange about whether he understands English and has a driver’s license, Mr. Lyoya turns away and is grabbed by the officer. He starts to run and is chased by the officer, wrestled to the ground, and there appears to be a struggle over the officer’s Taser. “Let go of the Taser,” the officer yells before he pulls out his gun and shoots Mr. Lyoya.

“How could anyone be in reasonable fear of their own life when they’re on top of somebody. … You can’t be in immediate fear when you’re on top and there’s no weapon,” said Ven Johnson, an attorney for the Lyoya family, who called the shooting “an execution-style homicide.” Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said, “I view it as a tragedy. … It was a progression of sadness for me.”

Investigation into the shooting, led by the Michigan State Police, is ongoing, and evidence will be forwarded to county prosecutors who will determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Authorities have promised a thorough and transparent review. The decision to release the video was an encouraging sign, but officials are wrong in refusing to name the officer. Among the questions that must be answered is why the officer’s body camera was deactivated just before the shooting.

Broader issues must also be addressed. Community activists in Grand Rapids said long-standing complaints from Black residents about police tactics and harassment have been ignored — a situation not unique to their city, which is why there have been calls for reform since Floyd’s death. Congress has been unable to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would strengthen accountability for police misconduct and reform police training and policies. Efforts to bring about change on the local and state levels have met resistance as concerns have mounted about the increase in violent crime. But police reform and public safety are not an either/or choice. Confidence and trust in police mean safer communities.

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