U.S. Refugee Leaders, Organizations Mourn Police Killing of Former Refugee and Michigan Community Member Patrick Lyoya

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Statement from Refugee Council USA, Refugee Congress, We Are All America, Church World Service, RefugePoint, and the Refugee Advocacy Lab

For Immediate Release: April 20, 2022

Washington–The brutal April 4 murder of former refugee and community member Patrick Lyoya at the hands of a Grand Rapids, MI, police officer has shaken our community.

The killing of the 26-year-old, who resettled to Lansing, Michigan, with his family in 2014 after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, represents a devastating reality: that refuge in the United States does not, in fact, mean an end to the threat of violence. Black refugees experience significant barriers when integrating into our communities, and the police murder of Mr. Lyoya is a heartbreaking reminder that being Black in America can be deadly

The United States aspires to be a beacon of safety and hope for people fleeing persecution. As we mourn the killing of Mr. Lyoya, we must recommit to challenging anti-Blackness, racism, and bigotry of all kinds—especially as we welcome newcomers to our communities. 

In response to the tragedy, former refugees from Michigan and across the country have raised their voices in condemnation of Mr. Lyoya’s killing: 

Sylvia Nyamuhungu, a community organizer with Church World Service in Grand Rapids, former refugee, and friend of Lyoya’s family said, “Last week I watched a father cry uncontrollably with such deep pain for the death of his son. All he could say was, ‘I am his father.’ His son has been taken away, and when I saw this African father cry, I saw my father, I felt his sorrow. I saw how helpless, how painful, how suffocating it is to experience such a deep loss. To experience it in a country where we were resettled, after years of waiting in refugee camps hoping to be at peace, is heartbreaking. This is a country we prayed for and hoped for freedom and protection in, a country that we deeply care for and respect. I remember how for years the tears of my people have not been viewed as pain, how the lives of my people have not been viewed as less than human, how my people continue to fight to be seen, but for some reason still fall short. The murder of Patrick Lyoya, neither justified nor humane, underlines my feelings.

“Michigan state police have now released statements saying Patrick had previous offenses, that he was not cooperating, as if any of that justifies him being killed. I pray for justice, I pray this will not happen again, but know that, ultimately, God is with us.”

Emma Yaaka, Refugee Congress Delegate for Illinois, said, “It makes me feel really unhappy and unsafe when such incidents happen. The community of refugees and immigrants often have less support from legal services, and many refugees have limited English language capability to safely access service providers, including police who often judge and make assumptions about individuals based on color. WE REFUGEES FEAR TO ENGAGE POLICE BECAUSE WE END UP AS THE VICTIM. We need to combine our efforts by involving the community to understand and stand up to stop this kind of incident. Last year, a refugee was shot dead in Rockford, Illinois, and nothing happened to convince us that any steps have been taken to address what happened. We need peaceful demonstrations to engage the community because otherwise, they do not know that they have our support when it comes to incidents like this.”

Tshishiku Henry, Refugee Congress Delegate for Washington State, said, “I am saddened by the killing of unarmed Black male refugee Patrick Lyoya by the Grand Rapids police officer who shot him dead. As the video of the incident has now been released to the public, we can all see that he did NOT deserve – and no one else should deserve – to be killed like that. WE NEED JUSTICE FOR PATRICK LYOYA.”

Paul Mwingwa, Refugee Congress Delegate for Montana, said: “It is with great regret that we observe the brutality of the police of our host country. It is a shame for a great powerful country to have such a weak police force that is not afraid to take the life of the helpless people. The Michigan police has proven how much they have declared war on refugees and especially Blacks. We stand in solidarity with our brothers everywhere that justice be done for Patrick.”

Lourena Gboeah, Refugee Congress Board Chair, said: “My heart aches hearing about the death of another innocent Black man in America. Specifically, a Black refugee who previously fled war and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This incident has sparked a new traumatic nightmare for his family, and has left the refugee community and advocates stunned.” 

Adam Sadda, Refugee Congress Delegate for North Carolina, said: “Words can’t express how heartbreaking it is to learn about the cruel and deliberate police murder of Patrick Lyoya. This murder must be thoroughly investigated, and the officer who perpetrated the crime must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Our deepest condolences to Mr. Lyoya’s family and the Congolese community in Michigan. May his soul rest in peace.” 

Sharon Njie, Refugee Congress Delegate for Louisiana, said: “It is sad to know the times we live in and our experiences will keep on recycling themselves. I am Black and a refugee, just like Patrick Lyoya, who had undergone trauma fleeing from his home nation due to violence and still did not avoid violence in America. It is even worse to know it is a law enforcement officer who took his life. What is the law saying? What policies have been put in place to avoid the repetition of this abomination? The officer needs to be held accountable for his action. We are sending prayers and thoughts to the family. We share in their sorrow. May they find comfort in their grief and the courage to face the days ahead.”

Pathou Betale, former refugee, said: “With a heart full of rage and sadness, I cry out to seek justice – justice for Patrick, justice for Congolese refugees, justice for Black people! We stand firm against any sort of Black targeting in the U.S. My deep and sorrowful condolences to Patrick’s family and to Congolese families in the U.S.”

Dauda Sesay, Vice Chair of the Refugee Congress Board, said: “Refugees flee their home countries for fear of their lives due to war, and now that traumatic experience is still haunting us. We are still healing from our painful and traumatic experiences. This time the color of our skin has been the target. It is saddening to know that the law enforcement officer who was supposed to protect us is now our new fear. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, and hopefully, justice will be served.”

Khamisa Abdalla, Refugee Congress Delegate for Nebraska, said: “With a heart full of sorrow, sadness and protest, I send my deepest condolences for the biggest loss of our refugee son, who came to America with heart full of American dream and to the special Congolese community and his family. God bless them.” 

Kosar Kosar, Tennessee Multicultural Organizer for We Are All America at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said: “I stand in solidarity with the family of Patrick Lyoya and the larger Black and refugee community in light of the state-sanctioned execution at the hands of a Grand Rapids police officer in Michigan. Patrick Lyoya, a 26- year old Congolese refugee, escaped violence and persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo only to lose his life for simply driving around with a supposedly unregistered license plate. He and his family were able to survive years of war in his home country, were able to flee to the U.S. with the hope for peace and safety, and all of that was upended by a bullet from a police officer in Michigan. As we have seen countless times before, Patrick Lyoyo lost his life for merely existing as a Black person. There is no way to justify this.  We just can’t keep writing off incidents like these as a mere case of a “few bad apples.” Policing and the larger criminal justice system are rooted in white supremacy. Going forward, we simply can not seek justice for Patrick Lyoya and his family by depending on the same system that killed him. We must depend on our communities and support the grassroots movements that are doing the work as we move to upend and abolish this epidemic of police violence. Lastly, the deafening silence from the media is deeply disturbing, yet unsurprising. This just goes to show that the supposed solidarity and concern for Black lives we’ve seen post-George Floyd were merely performative. Sending much light and love to the Lyoya family and the Black and refugee communities during this time. May Patrick Lyoya rest in power.”

For more information or to speak to those impacted by the tragedy, contact Refugee Congress at media@refugeecongress.org or 202-617-9295.