Traffic control with fatal outcome: A police officer stops a young black man. An argument ensues, which ends in a headshot. Now the police officer has to answer in court.

A good two months after the killing of a young black man during a traffic stop in the USA, the responsible white officer has been charged.

Police officer Christopher S. is accused of second-degree murder under Michigan state law, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, as prosecutor Christopher Becker said on Thursday. According to German law, second-degree murder would be more like manslaughter.

The police officer shot and killed Patrick Lyoya, who fled Congo with his family and came to the United States, on April 4 during an argument after a traffic stop in the city of Grand Rapids.

A traffic stop ends fatally

The officer initially stopped the 26-year-old because of an irregularity on his license plate. The two then got into a physical altercation, ending with the officer shooting Lyoya in the head from behind while Lyoya was lying on the ground beneath him. This emerged from video footage of the scene released by police after the incident. According to the police, no weapon was found near Lyoya.

A lawyer for Lyoya’s family, Ben Crump, hailed the decision to charge the police officer as “a crucial step in the right direction”. The officer “must be held accountable for his decision to pursue the unarmed Patrick and ultimately shoot and kill him in the back of the head for nothing more than a traffic stop,” Crump said on Twitter.

Regularly similar cases in the USA

In the United States, deadly police operations of a similar nature occur with sad regularity. The case of George Floyd is representative of this: In May 2020, the African American died in a brutal police operation in Minneapolis. Videos documented police officers pinning the unarmed man to the ground. White officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for a good nine minutes while Floyd begged him to breathe. The case led to nationwide protests against police violence and racism.