Two days after Seattle Police killed Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who had called them to report a burglary, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the apartment complex where the shooting took place to honor Lyles and demand justice. Several family members, sometimes through sobs, spoke to cameras and the crowd. After the rally, the crowd filed out of the complex for a three-mile, peaceful march to Husky Field.
Exactly what took place before two white Seattle police officers, identified late last night as Steven McKnew and Jason Anderson, fired the fatal shots remains unclear. Snippets of audio reveal a calm conversation between the two officers and Lyles about a stolen Xbox. Suddenly, things escalate. The officers shout “Get back!” One says he doesn’t have a Taser, according to a transcript. They fire. But for Lyles’ family and their advocates, the nature of Lyles' death is crystal clear.
“If you have time to decide whether or not I need to use my gun or whether or not I need to use my taser, you are not in danger,” the family’s attorney, James Bible, said of Seattle Police at a rally in front of Lyles’ apartment building Tuesday night. “You had time to do better than you did. That's why I say murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder.” The refrain echoed among the crowd.
Bible said he uses the word “murder” intentionally, “based on the information I’ve reviewed, the things I’ve seen.”
Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by Seattle Police last year, urged the audience of roughly 1,000 to translate anger and sadness into action. Citing statistics showing how few officers in Washington state are charged after killing civilians, Taylor decried the state’s weak laws on prosecuting police.
“This year alone 13 people have been killed by officers. Charleena makes 14,” Taylor said. "That is unacceptable, Washington. That is unacceptable, Seattle."
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant called for an elected civilian board with "full powers over the police” and said the council should hold a public hearing for the community to ask questions of Seattle Police. Later, Bible told the crowd that another council member, Lisa Herbold, who chairs the civil rights committee, would in fact hold a hearing. After the rally, Herbold cautioned against over-promising what a hearing could accomplish. The council cannot compel Seattle Police to actually answer the public’s questions, but “the public should be able to ask questions.” (Herbold's committee can hold the hearing but "has no jurisdiction over [Office of Professional Accountability] and SPD issues.")
“The questions the public has should help inform the investigation,” said Herbold, who was unsure when the hearing may happen but said it would be “soon.”
"I'll never see my sister again,” Lyles’ younger sister, Tiffany Rodgers told the crowd, crying. “Her kids will never see her again… I just want to grieve right now. I can’t even do that because I’m so angry. I'm scared of our so-called protectors. I was before, but I definitely am now."
After the rally wrapped up, family members of Charleena Lyles called for a march. The mass of supporters promptly filed out onto a neighborhood road, which turned to a two-lane street, which became four-lanes. Marchers walked through oncoming traffic while motorists reached their hands out of their windows to give passersby high-fives. Other motorists honked in solidarity.
For three miles, the marches chanted "Say her name—Charleena," the call and response that has emerged as the defining rallying cry for Lyles. Rodgers, Lyles' sister, led for much of the route. "My sister has been waiting for her voice to be heard. It took her dying for her to be heard, but she’s being heard today," she said.
Not a single uniformed police officer could be seen until the marchers arrived at the intersection of Montlake Boulevard and Pacific Street across the road from Husky Stadium, where a few officers formed a blockade. Marchers faced of against police for about 20 minutes, chanting, "She called for help!" and passing out candles. Heads turned to the sky when two rainbows appeared over Husky Stadium.
At one point when the family decided it was time to turn around, Andre Taylor took the intercom of a police car and announced that the march would be turning back to the apartment complex. The crowd dispersed. No arrests were made, according to a Seattle Police Department spokesman.
As the bulk of the crowd left the housing complex to march, others stayed behind consoling each other, caring for children, and sharing food.
Tre Wyatt, a home care worker who lives in North Seattle, stood by wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. His first thought when he heard of Lyles’ death: “Not again.”
Wyatt said he didn’t know Lyles’ family but came to support them and “acknowledge there needs to be some change in how the police deal with the community and how the community is seen.”
Justice in this case, Wyatt said, means accountability. “There must be consequences to their actions when the police force misuses its power,” he said. Wyatt also called for a deeper change “to how people see people of color. You can’t serve them… if you see them as the problem.”
Does Wyatt feel safe with Seattle Police? “I do not,” he said, “but I want to.”
“There’s hard work that needs to be done on the police side to build that relationship with the community,” Wyatt said, “but incidents like this tear it all away again.”
Quintella Feliciano, who came to the rally from West Seattle, told The Stranger she hasn’t slept in two days since hearing about Lyles’ death. She said she’s reminded of friends whose children have been shot, and she’s frustrated with what she deems a negative portrayal of Lyles online. Feliciano said she has had positive experiences with Seattle Police, but there are “just certain ones who may make bad choices.”
“We shouldn’t have to fear coming out of our households,” she said.
#CharleenaLyles pic.twitter.com/WScfbjzVRL — Heidi Groover (@heidigroover) June 21, 2017