Saying her name: Reflections on Charleena Lyles

Charleena Lyles vigil
Charleena Lyles’ family begins the vigil with a call-and-response, “Say Her Name! Charleena!” (Photo by Damme Getachew)

In order to get into a space where I could write these words, I had to spend time removing the performative cloak I wear every day when I exit my home to go to work or when I leave to go to the store or when I walk through certain neighborhoods.

So that I can feel intensely again.

Black pain.

Black pain.

Black pain.

“Say Her Name!

Charleena Lyles!

Say Her Name!

Charleena Lyles!”

How quickly people came together.

Hundreds gathered around last Tuesday’s memorial of flowers, handwritten cardboard signs and loosely strewn candles that decorated the ground in front of what was the home of Charleena Lyles. Just two days after the mother of four was shot and killed by Seattle police inside her apartment complex at Solid Ground’s Brettler Family Place 3, her immediate and extended family stood ready to speak on her behalf.

Charleena Lyles vigil
People leave signs, flowers and candles at a vigil last week for Charleena Lyles, who was fatally shot by Seattle Police. (Photo by Damme Getachew)

“Charleena Lyles. Leena is what we called her. Her smile was bright like the sun…” one of Lyles’ cousins began. “We would make an adventure out of anything. You were always willing to give your everything. I never imagined you would have to give your life…”

She took a breath into the mic. “Dial 9-1-1, quick it’s an emergency. I think it’s a burglary. Can you imagine calling for help, when your help arrived, you were sentenced to your very death?…She took bullets in her stomach and another in her chest. She was less than 100 pounds, yet the police called her a threat. What’s going on? What’s going on?”

Andre Taylor has been through this before. His brother, Che Taylor, was shot and killed by police last year. Andre Taylor has continued to strategize to firm up local laws on police accountability through his initiative Not This Time. Standing by Lyles’ family, he spoke from personal experience.

“A family can’t even take the time to grieve the passing and the senseless murder of their family member,” Taylor said to the crowd.

Taylor explained how grief takes a back seat due to intense national media attention.

“There a lot of media sources out there that continue to put a bad picture on their sister. They are not going to stand for that, they are coming up here to speak on who she is to them.”

James Bible, legal counsel to the family, has spent hours reviewing the transcript that details the line of events that led to the death of Charleena Lyles. The full transcript, along with dashboard camera images and surveillance video that showed the hallway where the police entered Lyles’ home, has now been released to the public.

Bible steps up to the podium.

“What you never get to hear is from the person that’s passed away. You don’t get to hear what their experience was… and that’s why at this moment we need everything we can to represent her, to represent her family, to say that her life mattered. Her life mattered.”

“If you had 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 imminent danger. And that’s why we say murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder is murder.”

James Bible, legal counsel to Lyles’ family, gives a personal account of the proceedings surrounding Charleena Lyles case. (Photo by Damme Getachew)

The crowd elevates. It is necessary to call it like it is during times like these when questioning and accusations just adds salt to the wound.

“Please think about her kids before you post on social media,” Lyles’ sister Tiffany Rogers cried. “They don’t need you bashing their mom.”

Another one of Lyles’ cousins takes the mic. “Hands up, don’t shoot. That’s the message for our families. She let them into her house. Leena was a good person. She had issues, but who in this world ain’t got issues?” the crowd yells in agreement. “We’ve all got some, but that doesn’t give you the right to shoot.”

With Lyles’ family leading the way, gatherers took to the street to continue to protest. Numbers grew as more people joined in.

“Say Her Name!

Charleena!

Say Her Name!

Charleena!”

Public forum scheduled

The Seattle City Council is holding a Town Hall for Charleena Lyles, at 6 p.m. Tuesday June 27 in Kane Hall, Room 130, on the University of Washington campus.

Charleena Lyle’s sister Tiffany Rogers (second from right) and others at a vigil last week. (Photo by Damme Getachew.)
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