Don Alexander, Charleena Lyles’ cousin, closes out the public hearing in front of Seattle City Council involving the officer-involved killing of Charleena Lyles. He says that if you want to change, you need to go and knock down the doors of those in power and demand change. (Photo by Jayna Harrell)
After the death of Charleena Lyles, a black pregnant mother shot and killed by two Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant requested a public hearing at the UW’s Kane Hall between the Lyles family and SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
The chief, however, declined to participate. O’Toole’s response stated Sawant’s request via email had “a disappointing level of ignorance of SPD policies and clear disdain for the investigatory process and review that SPD is court mandated to follow.” SPD has, however, done such public hearings before. The department held a heated public discussion last year with family after Che Taylor, a black man, died at the hands of SPD. O’Toole went on to write that had Sawant “expressed any interest in our work over the past three years…we would have gladly welcomed the invitation to engage.”
Regardless of SPD’s presence, the public hearing wasn’t cancelled, but rather became a space to heal. The event was moderated by Michele Storms, the Washington state American Civil Liberties Union deputy director, who permitted Lyles’ family to speak at any time. Charles Lyles, Charleena Lyles’ father, first explained his daughter’s name is pronounced with a hard “ch-,” not a soft “sh-.” The family had repeatedly heard “Say Her Name” over the past week only to have it pronounced incorrectly.
Charles Lyles brought up how the media blamed his daughter for her own death and denounced such conclusions. He explained Charleena Lyles was harassed by her ex-boyfriend. She even called the police and requested a protection order prior to this incident, but that went reportedly disregarded. The call she placed with SPD on June 18 was for burglary. The police who responded, however, discussed that she was too poor to have those type of belongings in the first place on their way to killing her.
“This one has to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jennifer Cobb said during her testimony.
She mentioned the death of Ben Keita, a Muslim teenager who was found hanging from a tree in Lake Stevens earlier this year.
Seattle community members repeatedly asked for the councilmembers to hold themselves accountable. It was requested that the officials put their phones away, twice. People asked that more be done for de-escalation training, and to remove paid administrative leave for the two officers under investigation.
One woman, Roxanne White of the Yakama Nation, moved the audience to tears.
“This nation has never served our people, both the Native Americans and African Americans,” White said. “Our lives matter as women, we are sacred, we are the backbone … until they respect us, nothing else will happen to change this community.”