By Lisa Vives
WHEN Patrick Lyoya, a Congolese immigrant, died at the hands of a police officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his life was cut down by violence much like the home-grown executions Congolese have been facing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for years.
Close to a thousand summary executions take place in the DRC each year.
Women and children make up a large part of the victims, with a third of the killings carried out by uniformed security forces, the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) said in an annual report on human rights violations in the DRC.
In addition to the victimization by security forces, Congolese civilians have been targets of killings by a coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers looking to root out the remaining perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.
Over a five year period, 50,000 Congolese were resettled in the United States with Grand Rapids – “the No. 1 place” for such immigrants.
Lynn Lawry from Harvard Medical School has studied mental health issues there. A 2010 study she conducted in the Congo found that half of all adults exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many of them came to the U.S. without any English language skills and with trauma, depression and other scars of war. They were in need of mental health services — services that local providers feared would not be there.
In 2014, the Lyoya family arrived in the U.S. They had escaped the regime of Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent-Desire Kabila, a brutal autocrat who became fabulously wealthy after 13 years in power. He managed to accumulate 2 billion dollars during his reign but was assassinated in 2001 by an 18 year old boy, possibly a child soldier.
Joseph Kabila was the number two man in a weak and poorly-trained army when he came to power. The DRC – sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country five times the size of France – was trying to put down a rebellion that involved 25 armed groups and armies from at least eight African countries.
The bloody conflict was billed as “Africa’s World War” started in 1998 and formally ended in 2003. It left more than two million dead and millions of others displaced.
Dorcas Lyoya, Patrick’s mother, on learning of her son’s death at the hands of a yet-unnamed officer in Grand Rapids, said during a press conference this week that she was “surprised and astonished” her son was killed in the U.S.
Patrick, 26, was her “beloved” first-born son, she said amid tears, and the family believed they had come to a safe place in America.
Meanwhile, in a press conference, Dorcas Lyoya appeared with her family and national civil rights attorney Ben Crump to call for charges to be filed against the officer responsible for the fatal shooting.