Lyles was shot dead by Seattle police in her apartment after she had called to report a burglary. The police said she had two knives in her hands and had refused to put them down. Three of her four children were in the apartment at the time.
According to her family, Lyles wrestled with significant mental health issues. The cops were well aware of her history of psychological problems and had been called to her residence more than 20 times before.
A few weeks before her death, police reported an incident in her apartment where Lyles refused to put down a pair of scissors, but said they had been able to de-escalate the situation.
“There have been too many unnecessary police killings across the United States over the past few years,” Charles Lyles Sr., Charleena’s grandfather, told the crowd. “Something has to be done.”
Some speakers called for better training of the police. But the Seattle Times reports that both cops had already gone though the police department’s Crisis Intervention Training prior to the shooting and one had previously taken a course in “de-escalation” and mental-health intervention.
“We live in a so-called progressive city, a sanctuary city, when in actuality, we live in the Deep North,” said Natasha Thornton. “We like to give ourselves a pat on the back, when in actuality, a pregnant Black woman was killed in front of her children.”
Some City Council members are calling for an independent inquiry outside of the police internal investigations.
Mary Martin, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Seattle, attended the forum holding a sign that read, “Prosecute and jail cops who killed Charleena Lyles.” Many gave Martin a thumbs up gesture.
Martin was not called upon to speak but told those who visited the SWP campaign table afterwards that “under capitalism the role of the police is to keep the working class in line, especially those who resist. Special punishment is meted out to those accused of not following police orders and those who are Black. ”
Ebany Tura, a student at Franklin High School in Seattle, told communist campaigners, “I don’t think there is a way to make cops ‘better.’”
A June 20 rally and march near the housing complex where Lyles was killed also drew hundreds.
“I just want to grieve right now, but I can’t even do that because I’m so angry,” Tiffany Rogers, Charleena Lyle’s sister, told the marchers.
James Bible, the lawyer for the Lyles family, said that he had listened to audio of the shooting, and the police weren’t in imminent danger because they had time to debate whether to use a Taser or a gun.
“We have a serious problem on our hands, and no amount of training, or protocol is going to fix it,” said the Seattle King County NAACP in a June 20 statement. “It’s time to actually start holding officers accountable when they kill innocent victims.”
In Washington state alone, just the month before Lyles was killed, police shot and killed individuals in Vancouver, Auburn and Burien.
The killing of Lyles also highlights the deterioration in health care. Under the guise of “deinstitutionalization,” the number of beds in government institutions for the mentally ill were cut from 413,000 in 1970 to less than 40,000 today.
Little was done to provide alternate treatment while funding for mental health care has been cut by billions of dollars over the last decade.
Instead of getting the help they need, many with psychological issues end up in prison. According to USA Today, in 2014 there were more than 350,000 mentally ill people behind bars.
A 2015 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center said, “The risk of being killed while being approached or stopped by law enforcement in the community is 16 times higher for individuals with untreated serious mental illness” than for others who come into contact with the police.