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Joe Biden’s Call to “Fund the Police” Will Haunt Him and Democrats

New footage of Patrick Lyoya being shot and killed by a police officer should renew focus on Democrats’ failure to reform policing

Activists protest against the killing of Patrick Lyoya, who was killed by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop on April 4, 2022 in Grand Rapids, MI, USA., April 14, 2022. (Photo by Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In his first State of the Union address last month, President Joe Biden declared: “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.”

“Fund them,” he continued. “Fund them. Fund them with resources and training.”

As noted by countless media outlets at the time, the comments drew bipartisan applause — including from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Given I would rather bathe in my own piss than vote for a Republican, I booed and hissed inside each and every single time such a novelty was mentioned with eagerness. How fitting that one of the few things both major American political parties can agree on is an ambivalence about the state sanctioned deaths of Black folk.

That’s exactly why as I watched Biden receive his standing ovation over his political pandering, I instantly wondered how long it would take before footage of another unarmed Black man being shot to death by a police officer would surface before Biden’s unnecessary boast would come back to haunt him. Not very long at all — a testament to many things but particularly Biden’s own failures to pass police reform in 2021.

On Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Police Department released videos showing a white officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop last week.

The still unnamed officer was on the back of Lyoya before he appeared to shoot him in the head. Before the shooting, the two were seen having a brief exchange in which the officer asked if Lyoya had a driver’s license and proceeded to grab him. Lyoya pulls away and starts to run before eventually being tackled.

However, midway through the struggle, the officer’s body camera stops filming. Speaking with the New York Times, Chief Eric Winstrom of the Grand Rapids Police Department said pressure was applied to the camera to turn it off during the struggle but it was not clear who applied that pressure or whether it was intentional.

How convenient for the unnamed police officer that fatally shot the unarmed Patrick Lyoya all the same. Winstrom showed dashcam, cell phone and the partial bodycam video. Thankfully, we also have the footage taken from the cell phone of a bystander.

“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family of Patrick Lyoya, said.

They executed him. There is no other way to describe it. They executed him the way they have executed so many of us.

According to Crump’s office, Loyoya immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014 and had lived in Grand Rapids for about five years. It should be unfathomable that a Black person immigrating from one of the poorest countries on the planet is no less safe from violence because of American law enforcement. But it makes too much sense.

After all, no matter where you came from, if you are Black in America, you are more likely than not to be a target by the police. And no matter when we are stopped by the police, we have every good reason to worry. They target us more frequently and more ferociously without repercussions.

It was only last year that the Grand Rapids Police Department reportedly ignored numerous requests by the city’s police oversight office to provide documentation regarding potential officer misconduct according to the office’s director.

That same year they were given an increased budget in spite of calls to spend less.

In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed sympathy to the Lyoya family and called for any protests to be peaceful.

“The Michigan State Police will conduct a transparent, independent investigation of the shooting,” Whitmer said. “Then, prosecutors must consider all the evidence, follow the law and take appropriate action on charges. Justice is foundational to safety, and without justice, we are all less safe.”

Whitmer, a former prosecutor, did not call on the Grand Rapids Police Department to be more peaceful. Or to exercise restraint. It’s not like I expected her to demand they not shoot Black people in the head while being on their back, but expressing sympathy only goes so far after so many victims of a known pattern.

The only people who can be so mundane about this cycle of death are the people not facing that type of threat. Fine, but they should be more fearful if for no other reason that their political fortunes depend on it. The Biden administration and this Democratic-controlled Congress can’t permanently curb child poverty, fight inflation, and other factors that actually cause crime but want to pump their chests about giving even more money to the police and expect to garner the kind of voter participation levels they need in order to win.

As much as many Americans may genuinely fear rising crime (partially due to cable news segments about crime based on what millionaire anchors hear is happening at Trader Joe’s or Manhattan or whatever), there are a lot of people who continue to be concerned about how easy it is for a cop to get away with killing Black people. In February, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed the slogan “defund the police is “dead and not Democrats’ position. We know, but the problem with that stance along with Biden’s proclamation is Democrats benefited from the largest social justice movement in American history happening during that election year.

That movement was based on fighting police brutality, and Patrick Lyoya’s killing, in all its casual brutality, is a reminder that Joe Biden and Democrats have not only failed to hold law enforcement accountable, it’s bragging about giving them even more spoils.

If Democrats think this strategy will get them the votes they need to stay in power, they will earn their miserable defeat.

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Michael Arceneaux

Michael Arceneaux

New York Times bestselling author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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