Earlier this summer I had the distinct honor and privilege of being the featured speaker for an amazing fundraiser in Seattle. Soon after I finished speaking, I called my wife to tell her I thought it was likely the most important event and audience I had ever spoken to. The organization, which I’ve grown to love, is Solid Ground – and they provide stable long-term housing and guidance for women and families escaping the vicious cycle of homelessness there in the city. It’s one best charities of its kind in the country. They don’t just provide a shabby roof over someone’s head, they provide safe, clean, quality homes for families who desperately need them and their support teams get to know and love those families along the way.
Many residents of Solid Ground communities came to hear me speak there in Seattle and I was able to meet dozens of them. They each had powerful stories of recovery and healing that touched my soul. Indeed, it was one of those residents who emailed me on Father’s Day this past weekend to inform me that another resident, Charleena Lyles, a 30 year old pregnant mother of four, had just been shot and killed by Seattle Police right there inside of her home in front of her children.
Friends and loving neighbors told me that Charleena had been struggling with mental health challenges. Many Solid Ground residents do and are receiving active treatment, counseling, and medication for it. The effects of long term homelessness, combined with mental health challenges, can make it damn near impossible for some people to transition back into everyday society. That’s a huge part of why Solid Ground exists – to provide that opportunity.
Friends of Charleena also told me that she had a deep distrust of police officers, but likely called them that morning because she felt she had no other choice. That struggle is a very real part of the black experience in America. You’d be hard pressed to meet a single African American who wouldn’t have at least a small reservation before dialing 911 for help from the police. She called for support anyway.
These officers, and all Seattle Police officers, know full well who Solid Ground homes are for and the unique challenges that many residents face. Early reports also indicate that the two officers who came to take Charleena’s report about the burglary, knew full well that she had mental health challenges and struggled through previous interactions with police officers.
Armed with all of that information, barring Charleena Lyles having a gun or bomb that morning, she should not have shot or killed. Police claim that she brandished a knife before they killed her, but have yet to say whether or not she threatened them or moved aggressively toward them in any way. It does not appear the officers were wearing any body cameras either. The officers also did not have Tasers.
In other words, those two officers brought a bulldozer into a situation that required a full set of precision tools. The Seattle Police Department claims the officers did have other less lethal weapons on them, but have not yet detailed what those weapons were. It doesn’t appear they used them.
Shooting and killing a pregnant woman, with known mental health challenges, in front of her young children, should only happen as an absolute last resort. I’m struggling to see how that’s what we have in this case. I would’ve honestly preferred police to consider even backing out of the apartment and reassessing the situation instead of using lethal force. Smart cities around the country are dispatching hybrid mental health teams, with armed officers embedded in them, to homes like this one. That clearly would’ve been a better solution. Nurses and doctors successfully intervene in similar situations often without shooting and killing people.
Furthermore, police forces all over the world are creating very simple solutions to help disarm people with scissors or knives. While Tasers are options for this, skilled teams can also use large plastic shields to surround and then take down and disarm someone they deem a threat.
Charleena Lyles got none of that. Had she been wealthy, white, and famous – or any combination of those things, I’m sure the police would’ve been much more careful and Lyles would’ve ultimately ended up in a hospital somewhere – receiving the treatment she so desperately needed. Or maybe they would’ve just taken her report and left her alone.