For the better part of 2017 the name Charleena Lyles was in the news.
She was the black woman shot and killed by Seattle Police inside her apartment within view of her young children.
The final report is in from the SPD, and the Force Review Board found the two officers acted properly and consistently with their training. They did not violate SPD policies.
How should we react to this as a community?
If you’re prone to trust and believe in the police, then this decision seems totally reasonable. These two officers were met with an unstable woman who threatened them with a knife and did not obey verbal commands. Their training tells them to neutralize the threat with force. Simple as that. If the victim would have just obeyed, she would still be alive today.
If you’re distrustful of authority, then this report from SPD reinforces your belief that the police are your adversary. They are not out to serve and protect you; they are to be feared.
So who’s right? Should Charleena Lyles have dropped the knife and complied? Of course she should have. Should those officers have had more tools in their toolbox when dealing with this situation? For me, that’s a no-brainer, too. Yes they should.
But what are those tools? Here’s where it gets extremely difficult. When a police academy is making policy and training, it has to apply broadly to every situation. There’s no room for nuance. Their goal is to protect their officers, protect the community, and put away the bad guys.
How do you train an officer to take action A some of the time when facing someone with a knife and take action B other times when facing someone with a knife? How can you tell if a person with a knife is serious this time or not?
These are very difficult questions to answer, but I don’t think they are impossible.
My heart breaks for the Lyles family. I do not want her death to be in vain. I hope that her legacy will be new policies and new training that will save the life of the next Charleena Lyles.
I’m friendly with a lot of men and women in law enforcement. I have yet to know one person that became a cop because they wanted to go into the community and abuse people. Without fail, they want to make their world a better place.
My hope is that we take this tragedy and use it as fuel to get better. Better police training, better mental health care, and better as family members. We can all do better to protect and serve the ones we love.
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