The video seems clear: Patrick Lyoya disobeyed a Grand Rapids, Mi., police officer during a traffic stop, tried to run, then wrestled with the officer over his Taser before the officer fatally shot him. For many Black men and women, resisting arrest during encounters with police for minor traffic stops have been deadly. Experts say anxiety levels of the people stopped and officers involved can be high, adding to the tension. George Floyd’s 2020 slaying by a Minneapolis officer, the 2014 strangulation death of Eric Garner by a New York City officer and the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., officer are among high-profile encounters that proved deadly for Black men. “Because of the way police are commonly portrayed, there can be anxiety for young men of color when they are pulled over,” said Jason Johnson of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “‘Am I going to get a ticket? Am I going to get arrested?’ They may believe they are going to be a victim of abuse. Many times they enter into these interactions thinking they are going to be a victim of brutality.”
In 2015, a white police officer in Columbia, S.C, pulled over Walter Scott, a 50-year-old Black man, for a broken brake light. A bystander’s video captured the two tumbling to the ground after the officer hit Scott with a Taser. The officer then shot Scott as he tried to run. In Lyoya’s case, his family and their attorney, Ben Crump, have said the 26-year-old Congolese refugee was slain for having a license plate that did not belong to the vehicle. While that’s why the officer stopped Lyoya, that’s not why Lyoya was killed. "It’s one of the disconnects or misunderstandings between the police and the public,” Johnson said. “If you look a little bit deeper, that’s not what happened. (Lyoya) had a number of opportunities to comply with the officer’s directions. This use of deadly force had nothing to do with a traffic violation and everything to do with (Lyoya) actively resisting arrest.” Scott Roberts of Color of Change, a national racial justice organization, said officers are often fearful given the dangers involved with making stops. That doesn’t negate that Black motorists suffer for showing or expressing their justified fears in traffic stops, he said.