On Monday, candidates in the race for Seattle’s next mayor reacted to news that the day before, Seattle police had shot and killed a young mother with mental health problems who’d called them to her home for help. According to police, Charleena Lyles brandished a knife and refused to “Get back!” before two officers shot her to death in front of her children. An audio recording of the incident seems to capture Lyles saying “Get ready, motherfucker” just before the shooting starts.
Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and activist, urged media and the public to foreground Lyles’ humanity and family in the wake of the killing. “Charleena’s murder in a lot of ways is emblematic of what so many communities face, but in particular the pain of black folks, the pain of communities of color and communities that are routinely overpoliced in our city and cities nationally,” said Oliver.
Asked whether the term “murder” was intentional, she replied, “It is a conscious choice to acknowledge that Charleena called for help and officers, instead of deescalating a situation, escalated it to the point of taking someone’s life.” She said that a “full investigation” is needed to bring out all the facts of the case before commenting on what should happen with the officers, but “right now from where we stand, it looks very clearly like misconduct.”
Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan responded to the killing in a written statement calling for an “honest and open investigation” to answer “many questions.”
“The bottom line is we need to do better,” she said. “We need more services and support for people with mental health problems and victims of domestic violence. Just two weeks ago, in a painfully similar situation, I was in court for a week, trying to get answers for the Muckleshoot tribe and family of Renee Davis, a beautiful Muckleshoot member killed in her home by police. No call for help should be answered by death.”
Former mayor Mike McGinn called the killing “shocking” in a written statement. He said that while a full investigation of the shooting by the Office of Police Accountability is important, “we also know that process will be ultimately unsatisfactory, and unacceptable for the changes we want to see.”
So what should those changes be? McGinn pointed to Initiative 873, which would make it possible to prosecute police officers for bad killings in Washington state. He also called for a Seattle Police Academy “in which we, under the oversight of the Community Police Commission, can create our own curriculum building on best practices from our country and abroad.”
Seattle police are currently trained at the Washington State Police Academy.
Urban planner Cary Moon and state legislators Bob Hasegawa and Jessyn Farrell tweeted in response to the killing:
My sincerest sorrow for the tragic shooting death of Charleena Lyles today. #SayHerName #CharleenaLyles
— Cary Moon (@CaryMoon4Mayor) June 19, 2017
Charleena Lyles #SayHerName #SeattleInsolidarity
— Bob Hasegawa (@bhasegawa) June 19, 2017
Tragic loss in Magnuson Park today. Will need answers in the coming days. For now, my thoughts are with Charleena Lyles’ kids and family.
— Jessyn Farrell (@jessynfarrell1) June 19, 2017
This post has been updated.