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Kent Co. Commissioner speaks out against "bad tomatoes" in GRPD's killing of Congolese refugee

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Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack
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Kent Co. Commissioner Womack speaks out against "bad tomatoes" in GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya

"I think we have one of the greatest police forces in the world here, Grand Rapids Police Department, but the code of blue they refuse to get rid of their bad tomatoes," Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack said.

Communities gathered across Grand Rapids over the weekend, protesting the death of Patrick Lyoya. The 26-year-old, Congolese refugee was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police Officer on Monday, amid police reports of an altercation during a traffic stop.

Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump was among a list of guest speakers during a Sunday unity forum held by Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack and announced he will represent Lyoya’s family. Crump has previously represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others in the fight against police brutality.

“For him to take this case and come to Grand Rapids within the week that this happened showed that there’s something there," Womack said.

The Kent County Commissioner is balancing his time as an elected official and activist, bringing in Crump and throwing his support behind the Lyoya family. Womack notes he's always been involved in community and city affairs but shared he has drawn closer to this case in hopes of aiding Lyoya's family, who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape violence in 2014, to overcome language and systemic barriers.

Womack is quick to note his respect for law enforcement and City Hall, but says change must come.

“We have one of the greatest police forces in the world, but they refuse to get rid of their bad tomatoes," Womack said. "I help this family not to be anti-police…I thought it would help the situation from both sides, but I’m paying a heavy, damaging price right now."

Womack has received threats against his career in the past week, upon demanding the release of dash and body cam footage from GRPD. Despite opposition from Kent County Prosecutor, Chris Becker, newly appointed police chief Eric Winstrom has promised to release footage of the incident by Friday at noon.