Protests continue over the shooting of Charleena Lyles by Seattle police officers who were called to her apartment to investigate a burglary.
The latest information — based on security camera video — is that the burglary did not happen in the 24 hours before she called the police – but in any case, it has again raised familiar questions about police use of force.
Seattle attorney Jeffery Robinson, who also works at the ACLU headquarters in New York, has been following the case. He blames this, in part, on the way Washington state law is written.
“Well, I’m heartbroken over what happened in Seattle,” he said. “As you know, Seattle has the most extreme use-of-force statute in the country. What I can tell you is that the police officers who shot and killed that woman in Seattle, nobody should expect them to be charged with a crime. It absolutely, positively will not happen under the law as it is in Seattle.
“I think of that case and I think of the Philando Castile verdict and I think about the verdict in Oklahoma where that officer was acquitted and I think about the verdict that just came out of Milwaukee where that officer was acquitted. And as I’ve said to many people before, it is almost impossible to convict a police officer of murder for killing a person of color.”
But, of course, Seattle isn’t the only city still grappling with this. In Minnesota, as Robinson said, there was the Philando Castile case, where a black man pulled over during a traffic stop was shot in his car after alerting the officer to the fact he had a legal firearm in his glove box. The officer lost his job but was acquitted of the charges.
Robinson says a lot of white people still have trouble understanding what black people feel when they see a cop.
“Tell me there’s a white family out for a drive with a baby in the back seat and an officer is going to see that as a threat,” he said. “What did Castile do that was wrong? The cop said, give me your license and registration. And he reached across … getting his registration out of his glove box. I would say nine out of ten Americans keep their registration in their glove box.
“And where do nine out of the American keep their driver’s license? In their [expletive] wallet. And so he tells the officer, just like you would, ‘officer, I have a weapon on me. I have a weapon and I have my wife and daughter in the car with me.’ What about that says threat?”
Minnesota, by the way, is an open-carry state.
I looked at that, and whether I’m allowed to identify with him or not, I’m telling you I did. He did what I would have done. But Robinson is saying that I would not have been shot. That does not reassure me.
“You shouldn’t be reassured, you’re absolutely right,” he said. “I’m telling you, you wouldn’t have been shot, but you are absolutely right … ask yourself, what would I have done differently? You would have done nothing differently.
“This officer saw a threat. What I saw was a family out for an afternoon drive.”
Misunderstandings like this have changed the way Robinson thinks about situations that might seem like no big deal to most of us. For example, he had to tell his own nephew, who he thinks of as a son, to get out of his apartment in Seattle to avoid any kind of misunderstanding.
“I’m in New York City and a burglar alarm goes off in my condo in Seattle because my nephew, who is essentially my son … he’s 20 years old, home from college for the summer, and walks into the apartment with his headphones on and doesn’t hear the alarm. The alarm company calls me here in New York saying ‘we’re sending the police,’ and I’m like no, no, don’t send the police. But my wife set up the alarm account so I don’t have the code.
“I’m calling my nephew and I finally get him on the phone and I’m screaming at him. Pardon my French, I’m telling him to get the [expletive] out of my apartment; get into the lobby right now. I don’t want you in that apartment when the police come with their hands on their guns thinking they may be looking for a burglar and you have a cellphone in your hand and now I’m burying my nephew.”
His nephew went downstairs and everything worked out fine once police arrived.
Later, his nephew asked why he was being yelled at to get out of the apartment.
“And I had to apologize to him. I said I’m sorry, I was just scared.”
You can listen to the full interview here.