Lyoya’s murder raises questions about Boston Square developments and immigrant welcome plan

GRAND RAPIDS — The death of Patrick Lyoya took place in a Grand Rapids neighborhood long traumatized by frosty police-community relations that is also undergoing major redevelopment to help overcome long-standing underinvestment .

Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, was shot in the back of the neck by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4 near Boston Square, southeast of the city.

For the past six years, neighborhood activists, city officials, nonprofits with strong financial support, and developers have focused on Boston Square as an opportunity to help repair inequality and poverty. historical disenfranchisement.

In particular, the symbolically named Boston Square Together project along Kalamazoo Avenue would encompass approximately seven acres across 12 adjacent properties. Plans call for up to 270 residential units and commercial spaces.

The Boston Square Community Association was formed four years ago to ensure residents of the Grand Rapids neighborhood have a seat at the table to combat potential gentrification, said Victor Williams, who leads the Boston Square Neighborhood Association and founded the Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator which aims to employ more minorities in film and media.

Amplify GRa non-profit association founded with the financial support of the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundationthe Cheri DeVos Foundation and Rockford Construction Co.plans Boston Square Together, the largest development in the neighborhood’s recent history.

The goal is to help bring vitality and representation to the neighborhood, but it’s unclear how such a traumatic event will affect those efforts.

“While we hope to attract and retain some of the talent that exists here within our black and brown communities, for me it is about customer service and creating the culture where all people feel included and safe” , said Amplify GR Executive Director Jon Ippel. MiBiz. “Our posture is initially to listen and see how we can be a support for local residents and neighbors who reside here in Boston Square.”

Amplify GR came to the Boston Square community six years ago, working with neighbors to gradually add to the community, Ippel said. The organization is headquartered about half a mile north of where Lyoya was killed.

“It’s generational work, from our perspective,” Ippel said. “We believe it’s up to us to continue to learn from what our neighbors are saying. It’s a transcendent human value that we all appreciate and desire, the feeling of being safe, and really that was articulated by people in the neighborhood.

However, it’s a far cry from the Boston Square atmosphere, according to Williams and other residents. Police profiling is a major problem, as well as law enforcement failing to respond adequately to violent situations that arise, Williams said.

In the past, the Boston Square Neighborhood Association has invited police officers to speak with their organization to resolve residents’ issues, leading to disrespect from law enforcement for the Boston Square community, a said Williams.

“We have raised our concerns with the city commission and the chief of police, saying that we need to get the situation under control and get better training for officers and maybe more community police to monitor our community – but to no avail,” Williams said.

Lyoya’s death has reinforced that the city is not providing the support the community needs, he said.

“We are not being heard from by the city of Grand Rapids or the police department,” Williams said. “As a community, we need to raise our voices louder and be more vigilant and more active and just push our local narrative and our residents to get involved in every way.”

Williams’ immediate concern is to give members of the community time to mourn and express their condolences to the Lyoya family, as well as to allow members of the black community to access therapy after the event has taken place. happened where they live, he said. Williams is actively working to find a way to connect community members with some form of therapy or counseling.

“I’m sure there’s someone who is really traumatized and needs to sit down with someone,” he said. “This needs to be the #1 job right now to make sure the kids in our community and members of the community at large can not only speak out about this, but also get the professionals to help. .”

“Clear pattern of disparities”

Amplify GR is currently in the process of hosting community listening sessions with its Neighborhood Advisory Council and residents.

“There is a clear pattern of disparities, and this is the space where we want to be an instrumental partner and help solve some of these challenges,” Ippel said. “It’s a reaffirmation of what neighbors have been saying for decades. There are real opportunities to address some of the disparities and discrimination. Some of that can be attributed to policing, but that’s a subject much larger.

Williams and other community leaders worked with Amplify GR to lobby for local ownership of new businesses and institutions that would be located within the Boston Square Together project. Residents, in particular, lobbied for a community-owned financial institution and grocery store. Even if outside groups intend to be fair, they can end up being counterproductive without local voices at the table, Williams said.

“That’s what we want to do: make sure we think about this thing throughout, especially for the black community, because it’s the biggest community in Boston Square right now and historically,” said Williams. We’ve walked hand in hand with (Amplify GR), but we can’t just say, “Go ahead, we trust you.” It’s a process.

Kzoo station: a community kitchen + a restaurant is the first part of the Boston Square Together project set to open this year at 1445 Kalamazoo St. SE, in coordination with SpringGR. The community kitchen will allow local residents to test catering concepts in an incubation space.

“Kzoo Station is the first physical manifestation of the plan which will be gradually implemented over the years,” Ippel said.

Welcoming New Americans

The Boston Square area also has a large immigrant population, which makes it more important to “go the extra mile,” understand each other and welcome each other, Williams said.

Like Lyoya and her family, many immigrants are fleeing their home country’s violence and violent, untrustworthy law enforcement — and they’re bringing that with them to their new community, said Tarah Carnahan, executive director and co-founder of Treetop Collectivea local non-profit organization that connects refugees to community resources.

“When there’s this language barrier or this cultural disconnect between law enforcement, the community has to come to that by understanding that the fear already exists or the trauma already exists,” Carnahan said. “The language and systemic barriers when someone relocates here are so deep. In order to figure out how to navigate the legal system or do things like get a driver’s license, if you have language barriers or if you don’t haven’t sailed, this needs to be resolved as soon as people arrive.

Treetops Collective was among the non-profit organizations that collaborated with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County to create a 2020 “Welcome Plan” that aims to address the concerns of the immigrant community. The plan includes measures to rebuild trust with law enforcement agencies and residents who are immigrants, as well as to promote equity in education and business opportunities.

Facilitation of the plan has been stalled during the pandemic, Carnahan said.

“There was no one who was hired to oversee the implementation,” Carnahan said. “There is a need to oversee the convening of these parties and ensure that the voices of community leaders from the refugee and immigrant community are centered on how it is implemented.”

Kent County is in the “final stages” of identifying a coordinator to implement the welcome plan, said Omar Cuevas, vice president of investor and corporate relations at the Grand Rapids Chamber. .

The host plan coordinator will be a Kent County employee and will work with the steering committee that formed the host plan in 2020, he said.

Lyoya’s death will “reinforce” the importance of addressing specific law enforcement issues in the plan for the immigrant and refugee population, Cuevas added.

“One of the goals of the welcome plan is to make our immigrant community feel safe and connected to the community,” Cuevas said. “We’ve involved the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in the welcoming plan process itself, and that’s something we care about: how we improve relationships with our immigrant community and the forces of the order.

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