It was a death that stunned residents in Los Angeles and captured news headlines when 19-year-old Michael Wood Byoune was fatally shot on May 11 in the parking lot of Rally’s burgers at Manchester and Crenshaw Boulevards.
Byoune was allegedly slain by police gunfire as he sat in a friend’s car at the Rally’s hamburger stand at Manchester Blvd. about 1:40 a.m. Byoune was shot four times in what is being ruled an officer-involved shooting by an Inglewood police officer.
This incident is just one of a rash of gun-related tragedies that have claimed the lives of young black men in South Los Angeles and recently led Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to demand increased police patrols in South Los Angeles neighborhoods fraught with violence.
The controversial officer-involved shooting is undergoing an internal investigation by the Inglewood Police Department and the Los Angeles city district attorney’s office.
Despite the ongoing investigation, friends and family continue to question police procedures that resulted in the death of a promising young man described as friendly and outgoing and whose aspiration was to become a cartoonist.
Many family and friends wept silently in the sanctuary of City of Refuge Worship Center at Greater Bethel AME Church in Gardena on May 22 as Byoune rested in a powder blue casket draped with blue, purple and white carnations.
Minister Michael Taylor sang an spirited rendition “I Feel Like Going On” and Elder Edward Harry officiated at the service.
Greater Bethel AME’s Bishop Noel Jones, who was unable to attend the service, sent his condolences to the family. “Family, as you grieve for your family and friends, I hope that God will give you the strength to release the pain,” Jones said. “Your memories are God’s gift to you to preserve the presence of Michael.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who was also unable to attend the funeral due to prior engagements in Washington, D. C., sent field representative April Lawrence to deliver condolences to the family. “Michael’s untimely passing has affected many lives and he will be sorely missed,” Waters related. “Michael was well liked by his friends and although his dream of becoming a cartoonist will not be realized, his memory will remain in our hearts and minds,” she stated.
Reverend Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who had been requested by the family to speak, shook his head sadly at the podium as he reflected on the likable young man who enjoyed video games, wrestling and eating. “Michael is in the arms of our savior, but we can’t get away from the fact that it was a tragic and untimely death,” said Lee. “Any time one of our babies is taken from us, we as a community and as a people across the country suffer.” But Lee reflected on the resiliency of African Americans who have survived tragedy for centuries, pointing out that black people have faced challenges that no other people have ever faced. “I imagine that we will continue to face those challenges,” he reflected. “But the one thing that we had learned from Malcolm X to Martin Luther King is that we are a strong people.”
Pausing, he added, “When they take our child from us, they take our future. Some things happen to us that we can’t explain. When we see God we have to ask him to explain. Why, God, would you allow someone to take one of our children? What can we take from this tragedy?”
Peering out into the congregation, Lee said, “We have to return to being a people that love one another. I’m here to say that Michael was a part of all of us and he always will be. Allow this tragedy to bring us together so that we can move forward.”
A portion of the service allowed friends and family to reflect on the jovial young man who was described as affectionate and fun loving. Also present were members of the Black Riders Liberation Party, who expressed their outrage over the shooting. “We’re tired of police killing our kings and queens in our community,” declared a spokesman for the group. “It’s time to protect our community. We have an enemy that is licensed to kill.”
Eddie Jones of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association questioned police procedures that resulted in Byoune’s death. “Before police shoot somebody, where was the crisis team?” he asked. “If someone is shooting, I’d be scared, too, because bullets have no name. But any time a police officer shoots through his own windshield at a citizen, he should be held accountable for his actions. Mayor Dorn should pass legislation to change police procedures in that police department.” Pausing, Jones said, “Michael’s dream is still alive because his dream is inside of our heart. It’s our job to make it a reality.”
Pastor Jonathan Moseley reflected, “Let not your heart be troubled, but we know we are living in troubled times. Anybody who doesn’t feel they’re not in trouble, you must be on Planet Pluto. Just remember that Michael’s death was not in vain.”