(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton reminded mourners that Black people are created in God’s image at the funeral of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Friday.
“We were created in the image of God,” Sharpton said in his eulogy April 22. “When you see us, you are seeing what God put together. And what God put together, you don’t have the right to violate.”
Hundreds gathered at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids for the funeral, which was also livestreamed. Some mourners donned shirts reading “Justice for Patrick” as they paid their respects to Lyoya, whose white casket was draped with the blue, red and yellow flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese man, was fatally shot by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. Initially pulled over for a mismatched license plate, a video released Wednesday (April 13) shows the officer, who is white, shooting Lyoya in the head after a brief scuffle. The officer’s name has not yet been released, despite demands from Lyoya’s parents. Earlier this week, a forensic expert confirmed that Lyoya died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Michigan State police are currently investigating the shooting.
Lyoya arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014 and leaves behind two young daughters, five siblings and his parents.
Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy, reminded listeners that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, the same day of Lyoya’s death. He also repeated demands to release the name of the officer who killed Lyoya and called on the U.S. Federal Justice Department to investigate the shooting.
“It’s time for you to stand up, stand up in Michigan, stand up in the US, to stand up all over the world,” Sharpton said. “It’s time to fight again. It’s time to march again. It’s time to organize again. It’s time to rally again. It’s time to walk together, children. Don’t you get weary. No justice, no peace!”
The funeral itself contained few details about Lyoya’s life, but NPR reported that he was known as someone kind and who loved soccer, music and dancing. Commissioner Robert Womak, who helped organize Friday’s funeral, told NPR Lyoya taught Congolese dances in Grand Rapids clubs, and Pastor Banza Mukalay told NPR Lyoya attended his United Methodist church just outside Grand Rapids.
Lyoya’s father, Peter Lyoya, described his son as quiet and peaceful via translator Pastor Israel Siku in a press conference on Thursday. His Mother, Dorcas Lyoya, told the Detroit Free Press that her son brought joy to others. “He is the type of person that you will love to be around,” she said, adding that he would often put her “in a good mood to make me laugh.”
Local Black pastors opened the service with prayers and Scripture readings from Isaiah and the Gospel of John, and a Gospel choir led the packed church in a rendition of Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” Stevante Clark, whose brother Stephon Clark was killed by police in Sacramento in 2018, and Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed by New York City police in 2014, were also in attendance, along with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence from Michigan’s 14th District.
Sharpton recognized Bishop Dennis J. McMurray, senior pastor of Renaissance Church of God in Christ, for hosting the funeral. “The Bible says woe unto them that are at ease in Zion,” said Sharpton. “Too many people today are at ease, while this kind of thing is going on. But thank God for Bishop McMurray, who had the nerve to open up his church. Some of you preachers didn’t want this in your church. … But I thank this Bishop for giving this family a dignified place.”
Renaissance Church of God in Christ has played a central role in the city’s response to Lyoya’s death. A group of Black pastors in Grand Rapids called the Black Clergy Coalition organized a forum for community discussion at the church on April 10 and also hosted a press conference there last Thursday (April 14).
Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Lyoya family, delivered a call to action that implored global leaders to take notice of Lyoya’s death. “World leaders can’t condemn Russian soldiers shooting unarmed citizens in the back of the head in Ukraine, but then refuse to condemn police officers shooting unarmed Black citizens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Pastor Kizombo Kalumbula, a pastor at Tabernacle Community Church in Grand Rapids, introduced a number of local Congolese leaders who celebrated Lyoya’s Congolese identity and demanded justice. The service concluded with songs led by a Congolese choir. According to Siku, a Congolese pastor who has been interpreting for the Lyoya family and who interpreted in Swahili throughout the funeral, the song’s words meant: “Be lifted, be glorified, because you are the only one who deserves the praise, who deserves the worship, who deserves the glory.”
Sharpton and the National Action Network, a civil rights organization he founded in 1991, helped cover the cost of the funeral. The civil rights leader previously delivered eulogies at the funerals of several other Black people killed by police violence, including those of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Andre Hill and Andrew Brown Jr.