Seattle Woman Killed By Police, Charleena Lyles, Is the Latest Black Life That Apparently Doesn’t Matter

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30-year-old Charleena Lyles called the police yesterday morning to report an attempted burglary in her fourth-floor unit at Brettler Family Place apartments in Seattle. When the two white police officers arrived, they ended up shooting her. She was pregnant, and already the mother of three children. She was also black.

According to The Seattle Times, “Police Detective Mark Jamieson said officers were alerted to ‘hazard information’ in the system after a previous encounter with the woman, which prompted a two-officer response.” That information had to do with a previous incident in which Lyles, who suffers from mental health issues, was arrested earlier in June for obstruction and harassment because she would not “let go of her baby” in front of officers until her sister arrived.

Her sister, Monika Williams, explains that, while Lyles was holding scissors during the previous incident, “she didn’t charge nobody or nothing.” Of the horrific shooting of her sister, she says, “The officers need to pay for what they did. Even if my sister had a knife in her hand, she weighs like nothing, even if she’s soaking wet. There’s no way you could’ve taken a taser and taken her down? There’s no way you could’ve taken a baton and knocked the knife out of her hand?”

So, here we have someone with “mental illness issues,” which the police knew about, what with their previous experience with her and their “hazard information.” Someone who, in the previous incident they had with her, was not violent. And yet their response is to go in shooting. At the sight of a knife.

There’s a reason why they say “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” You will lose.

More importantly, she’s the one who called them for help. She was reporting an attempted burglary. It stands to reason that she might be holding something with which to defend herself if she was afraid of an intruder. For trained police officers to see a small, pregnant woman carrying a knife and feel the need to shoot leads me to believe that they’re actually not that well-trained at all. One of the officers involved in the shooting is an 11-year veteran of the force. The other officer was described as “newer to the department.” Rather than knowing how to de-escalate a tense situation, these police officers shot first, prepared to ask questions later.

And, of course, for far too many officers, it’s a lot easier to pull the trigger when it’s a black person on the other end of the gun. It’s easier still when you’re responding to a black person in a poor area, apparently. Brettler Family Place Apartments are a low-income housing complex run by Solid Ground, a non-profit that contains both transitional and permanent housing for formerly homeless people. About 400 people live at the site, and about half the residents are children, according to The Stranger.

Now, three of those children—Lyles’ two boys and a girl, ages 11, 4 and 1, one of them with Down Syndrome—have been left motherless thanks to police incompetence fueled by racism.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the shooting will be reviewed by the SPD’s Force Investigation Team and the Office of Professional Accountability. The case will also be reviewed by the King County Prosecutor’s Office, who will call for a coroner’s inquest. You know what likely won’t happen? An arrest. Because it isn’t considered murder when police shoot black people.

This is far from the first time that the Seattle Police Department has been terrible to its black residents, as well as the mentally ill. The Seattle Times reports that “The Seattle Police Department has been under a federal consent decree since 2012 after a Department of Justice investigation found its officers routinely engaged in excessive use of force, most often against people with mental or substance abuse problems. Federal investigators also found evidence of biased policing.”

You don’t say?

Is it any wonder that black citizens never feel at ease calling the police for help? As 50 people gathered outside Lyles’ apartment complex yesterday to support Lyles’ family, Wanda Cockerhern, a cousin remarked on the fact that Lyles had been continually burned every time she tried to go to the police for help. “Each time she called, it cost her something,” she said. “This time it cost her her life.”

(via Jezebel, image: A. Ruiz/Shutterstock)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.