Say Her Name: Charleena Chavon Lyles

Charleena Lyles might still be alive had the police officer who visited her during a crisis charged his Taser.

“Anderson reported he had pepper spray and a baton with him at the time of the shooting, but wasn’t carrying his Taser because the device’s battery had died,” the Seattle Times reported in December 2017. Anderson faces potential disciplinary action over his handling of the Taser problem.”

The first womxn I chose to memorialize for the #SayHerName project was Charleen Lyles, who was killed last year by Seattle police officers in my neighborhood.

The shooting came at a time when Lyles’ lifewas “spinning out of control,” according to the Seattle Times (who I remain wary of due to my experiences with their education reporting).

How do we treat mentally ill patients who have no named agent to advocate for them during times of crisis? Who is looking out for their needs and their best interests?

A Lyles family lawyer was critical of the outcome of the investigation, which concluded the officers used reasonable force, the Seattle Times also reported. “The same events that led to Charleen Lyles’s death could happen again tomorrow, and there is no plan underway to make that outcome less likely.”

After police responded to Lyles’ house for a burglary call, Lyles apparently came at an officer, brandishing a knife or two. The SPD argues that in this moment, the level of force they used was the reasonable response. They shot her seven times, including twice in the back, The Guardian said, reporting on her autopsy in August 2017.

I get hit by waves of anger and emotion, knowing that all this happened less than a few miles from me, yet I heard only brief murmurings of the news. The SPD has come under fire for use of excessive force in the recent past, as it admits in its own special report in 2001.

“The most recent report by the National Institute of Justice on Contacts Between Police and the Publici2 indicates that while more than 44 million Americans had contact with police officers in 1999, fewer than 1% of these contacts involved the use of force,” the report states.

By The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA – #SayHerName, CC BY-SA 2.0

Which maybe sounds pretty good, until you consider the large percentage of “contact” situations are supposed to be positive, community-related interactions (see the modern interpretation of the Broken Windows theory in a fantastic NPR piece here.). How many of those contacts were contentious, and what percentage of those encounters involved use of force?

The report failed to analyze the racial breakdown of use of force, and in fact, doesn’t mention race until page 11 of the 19-page document.

One piece of information that I found interesting attempted to address my longstanding question as to why officers don’t shoot to disarm or injure. The report states,

Why don’t officers just shoot weapons out of people’s hands or shoot to wound them? Police officers are taught that their paramount duty is to ensure public safety by protecting themselves and others from harm. When confronted by persons who are armed and dangerous, the officers’ goal is to stop these persons before they can harm others. In Seattle as in other law enforcement agencies, officers are trained that the most certain and effective way to stop armed and dangerous assailants is to aim for their “center of mass”. Movies and television programs make it seem that shooting at a person’s arm or leg is easily done. In real life, such a shot is both improbable and risky. Deadly force incidents evolve in seconds, often presenting officers with limited opportunities to intervene. In light of this, officers are trained to take the high percentage shot, which is center of mass.

I remain unconvinced. I am alarmed by the use of the phrase “high percentage shot.” I have a lot of questions, even while I understand the difficult split-second decisions officers must make, having a number of police officers in my family.

Time to make it about myself, now. Some friends and family have expressed kind concern that I’ll trigger myself into a spiral down into a manic episode with all this research and work, but I find it grounding. I think it’s helpful to process these tragedies so these womxns’ stories live on and advocacy can be done on their behalf.

I’m still worried with a hope that my work doesn’t exploit the experiences of the womxn I’m highlighting, that as my friend E put it, I’m “joining a movement without co-opting it.” As always, I appreciate if you choose to do the emotional work of sharing your feedback, as it helps me to be a better learner and advocate.

<3 <3 <3

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