On June 18, two Seattle cops shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old mother of four, who had called police to report a burglary. Killed in front of three of her children, the 95-pound Black woman was three months pregnant. In a bald-faced travesty of justice, Seattle’s Police Review Board concluded that the police execution of Charleena Lyles by peppering her with seven bullets for allegedly lunging with a knife was “reasonable, proportional and within policy.”
The review board that concluded the police officers had acted properly is composed of 15 acting members of the Seattle Police Department. This can hardly be considered an impartial or objective review panel. Business as usual. When a low-income person of color is killed in a confrontation with the police, the police review board steps in and says “Nothing to see here, move along now!” The two cops involved, Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, will face no criminal charges for taking Charleena Lyles’ life. There is an outside chance that Anderson may face a mild departmental rebuke for not carrying his taser.
Departmental policy requires that both police officers carry tasers. In this particular instance, neither of the police officers in question was carrying a working taser. As previously reported on by Liberation News, the requirement that the cops carry tasers is the result of a consent decree issued by the U.S. Department of Justice due to “a well-documented record of abuses and a long history of targeting communities of color.”
Anderson is quoted as saying that he stopped carrying his taser with him when the battery went dead a couple of weeks prior, so he was leaving it in his locker. What kind of sorry excuse is this? Did he not have time over the course of two weeks to replace the batteries in a mandatory piece of equipment? In any event, Anderson also stated that even if he had the taser at his disposal, his training was to use deadly force when faced with a knife.
According to all accounts, both officers fired their weapons at Charleena Lyles. She was standing between the two policemen when she was killed; she was shot in the back according to the autopsy report. Two armed agents firing seven shots in quick succession from the front and from behind is a deliberate use of deadly force. Lyles was known to the police department as a person with mental health issues. Yet neither officer was prepared for anything less than the use of deadly force.
This points to the fact that, to the police and the capitalist system that they serve, keeping people like Charleena Lyles alive is not a priority. Poor people of color, particularly those with disabilities, are particularly vulnerable at the hands of the Seattle Police Department.
Charleena Lyles’ death sparked several protests in the days that followed. The chant at these rallies and marches has been “Say her name! Charleena!” This chant has now become part of every demonstration against police violence and at Black Lives Matter events in Seattle. Clearly, everybody who knew Charleena Lyles believes that the police could have managed to subdue this 95-pound woman without killing her.
At all the hearings, marches, rallies and vigils, her friends and family expressed words to the effect that Charleena Lyles was not a threat to anybody. Her family is in the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. April 16, 2018, has been set as the date for a legal inquest into Charleena Lyles’ death. The outcome will be a decision whether to file criminal charges against the officers. If the Police Review Board’s conclusion is any indication, criminal charges being filed against the officers seems very unlikely.
Washington state law serves as a barrier to justice being served with its requirement that an officer who kills someone be shown to have acted with “malice.” For all intents and purposes this is impossible to prove. Community activists have been organizing to place on the ballot the “De-escalate Washington” initiative. This would close the “malice” loophole and also require de-escalation training for all police.