Letter From the Editor: Here We Are Again. And Again.

The history and intersectionality of policing and reform in this country is complex.Seattle Police Reform

But what we want isn’t complicated. We want police to stop shooting people to death. We want them held accountable when they do.

We want families made whole, after they have been torn apart. When it is too late. When the living are now the dead.

 

The history and intersectionality of policing and reform in Seattle is long, and complex.

But what we want is not complicated.

We want people to stop dying unnecessarily because officers used guns, when they should have used sense.

 

Still, here we are again, collectively gathered at another memorial; traumatized, outraged and overwhelmed by yet another life gone at that hands of law enforcement. Yet another avoidable death. Even the Seattle Police Department knows it. What happened to Charleena Lyles and her children is unacceptable. It is indefensible, like so many before her.

John T. Williams. David Walker. Che Taylor. Fill in the rest.

Reform and oversight are supposed to be the means to prevent these deaths. Yet here we are again, repeating, indeed participating in, and repeating the cycle. More will die.

Seattle Police officers are not required to carry tasers as a “less-lethal” option. Thank the Police Guild for that.

However, it was made clear by the Department in an interview earlier this week, that per Department policy, both officers should have had one or both: pepper spray and batons.

At least one officer can be heard in the recording stating he does not have a taser*. Where are the batons? We see police walk from the car, to the building. Are batons on their belts? No. Officer McNew, first to open fire on Ms. Lyles’ said in his statement to investigators, that his baton, and pepper spray was strapped to the bullet proof vest he had on at the time.** 

Why is the killing of Ms. Lyles so outrageously indefensible to the Department? Because it didn’t have to happen. It could have been avoided entirely, full stop.

For a moment, set aside what happened once police are in the apartment with three children and their pregnant mother. Those officers could have made the choice -under the circumstances and having the level of detailed information available in their database, which they reviewed prior to engaging Ms. Lyles- to simply not respond to the call.

The Seattle Police Department and its union, tout the crisis intervention training their officers go through- often the only preparation as the last option in a failed mental health system further gutted by the aftermath of a shredded social safety net, thanks to billions of cuts at the state level, which trickle down into our communities and lives.

Both officers had training which should have been the point where common sense took over. It didn’t. The first thing one must do, is evaluate whether they have the capacity, in the moment, to work to prevent a situation from worsening. They have to ask themselves, essentially, a series of can I/should I/am I able to use my training in this situation? Do I have the tools I need, with me?

Yes, they should not have shot and killed Ms. Lyles. They shouldn’t have gotten out of the car to begin with.

If officers did not have pepper spray or batons, they were in violation of department policy. But beyond that, they could have simply stayed in the car, and called for another set of officers to respond instead. They were not responding to a home invasion robbery. They were not rushing in to protect lives during a violent crime. They were responding to a burglary call, after the fact. Ms. Lyles and her children were safe, in their home.

Until police arrived. Then Ms. Lyles was shot dead in front of her children. We all heard what happened.

What are we left with, and what are we doing with it? The seemingly impossible task of demanding and fighting for reform, fighting for the system to change or be changed. With each step gained, people still die. And while reform of a specific department is important, the problem is not one police department. It is the system of policing. We don’t just have to worry about police in Seattle, we have to worry about Tukwila, Bellevue, Tacoma, Federal Way, Kent, and Sheriffs’ departments across the state.

Like King County Sheriffs who shot dead Tommy Le, the day before he was set to graduate last week. He had a pen in his hand.

A pen.

It is Indefensible. Outrageous. Enraging. Maddening. Terrifying.

The senseless body count created by law enforcement keeps going up, while the rights of the people to stay alive are violated, ignored, and dying on the vine.

We have been down this road before. It’s pre-paved. We can look to precedent- what has happened and been done before- and know what comes next.

An inquest by order of the King County Executive’s Office. An internal investigation by Seattle Police. OPA does whatever it does or does not do as their process. Meetings, hearings, protests. And ultimately, a determination of whether the shooting was justified: did officers have reason to fear for their lives?

If officers prove (or insist enough) they had reason to fear Ms. Lyles, they get their department issued weapons back. An allegedly unstable woman who –allegedly- suddenly grabbed a knife or knives and attacked or was preparing to attack police in her home in front of her children may fit the bill for a Department stamp of approval, no matter how suspiciously convenient, and no matter what protocol and policies were broken up to that point. There is no video to refute the officers that we know of. No body cameras. Thank the Police Guild for that, too.

After the County inquest and the internal Department review and investigation, all eyes fall on the King County Prosecutor’s Office. There’s precedent for that, too. John T. Williams, shot and killed by former Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk.

The Prosecutor declined to file charges, citing state law. Those laws haven’t changed since Mr. Williams was shot dead, and efforts to do so are not getting enough authentic support, across the board. And as it is a state law, it impacts much more than just Seattle Police and the communities that suffer their actions. It’s all of us, across the state.

The law has to change. And only the people can organize to do that, because the will of state lawmakers is not enough, or it would have been done already.

Even if the state law is changed, it doesn’t mean Prosecutors will start charging police officers when they kill people, and even if they do, we know a conviction is the least likely outcome. We can look to the rest of the country for endless proof of that.

Not guilty.

Not guilty.

Not guilty.

Creating the appearance of change is not authentic, lasting change, if the outcome remains the same. Reforms and oversight have fallen short. Even the Department of Justice failed to use the full weight of its authority when it filed a lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department over excessive use of force. Currently the DOJ is taking a “watch and see” approach to the death of Ms. Lyles’ which should be acceptable to no one.

Likewise, creating the appearance of leadership on the issue, is not authentic, lasting, impactful leadership, and the mirage of such leadership is dangerous, whether at the community or political level.

The deaths of Ms. Lyles and Mr. Le come during election season, particularly in Seattle, where candidates are positioning themselves to be the next mayor, and are, inevitably exploiting tragedy and injustice in the process. If a candidate is promising you exactly what you want to hear, you’re probably listening to a sales pitch.

Further, most candidates neither take a bold stand, nor have the foundation, coalition, and capacity to create immediate or long-term change. The empty promises, misleading messaging, posturing, exploiting and lead-nowhere words and actions will ultimately hinder some and potentially be the downfall of others when it comes to campaign support, dollars and votes.

In the end, it is contest of winning, and losing, not progressive or wishful visions of what government leadership could look like in a city like Seattle.  No candidate or elected official should be given a pass to straddle the fence or hedge on police reform, not in Seattle or anywhere else in the state. This is an epidemic impacting all of us, and our generations, old and young.

Candidates for office, particularly mayor of Seattle, where community safety and police reform is paramount, should not be running to protest a broken or inequitable system. They should run to change it, which means running to win, not pretending to for the sake of principle, or worse, creating an illusion the people most in need of leadership and protection believe is real.

If humanity is not enough to keep us from meeting the same fate as Ms. Lyles or Mr. Le and those killed before them, neither then, is outrage or reactionary tactics.

Solutions are not in any single megaphone, or freedom fighter, nonprofit organization, candidate, journalist, official, officer or precinct. There is no wand to wave, only trenches to dig into for the long haul, shoulder to shoulder, united, doing the work. We are not there. Yet.

The history and intersectionality of policing and reform in Seattle is long, and complex.

But what we want is not complicated.

We want police to stop shooting people to death.

Reform and oversight are supposed to be the means to prevent these deaths. Yet here we are.

Again.

And again.

 

 

Sakara Remmu, Editor

BOMBCo.


  • Correction: Corrected from “pepper spray” to “taser.”

**Friday June 23rd the Seattle Police Department released transcripts of the interviews of both officers in which the officers themselves describe in their own words what allegedly happened the morning they responded to the home of, and shot and killed Ms. Lyles. This section has been edited to reflect information obtained from those statements. 

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