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Charleena Lyles Vigil

A boy is seen amid Charleena Lyles memorial at Brettler Family Place in Seattle's Magnuson Park on Tuesday evening, just days after she was killed by Seattle Police Department officers after she had called them to report a robbery.

The nation’s rising awareness of police violence was tragically brought home to our community this summer with the shooting death of Charleena Lyles in an apartment in Northeast Seattle.

Lyles was a resident of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus. Her violent death left many grieving and looking for a way to make sense of, and respond to it.

As Solid Ground’s leader, I have wrestled with how the systems that an agency like ours operates within set the stage for this horrible trauma — how housing, policing, mental health and other elements of our community support left such a huge gap, resulting in Lyles becoming a victim of police use of deadly force.

As a Black man, I wrestle with the evidence that people who look like me — and my children and other people of color — are at much greater risk that an encounter with police will turn into tragedy.

My reaction to Lyles’s shooting has run the gamut from horror, grief and frustration to a determination that her life and death, though no longer front page news, be the catalyst for lasting change.

In this vein, I have asked Solid Ground’s Board of Directors to endorse I-940, De-Escalate Washington. The endorsement was unanimous. I-940 is an initiative to the Washington State Legislature that would reduce violence in our communities and build bridges between communities and police. If this initiative were in place, Charleena Lyles would likely be here today. Additional ongoing, comprehensive training in mental health and crisis intervention techniques would have given the officers who came to her door additional tools and resources to de-escalate the volatile situation.

It is a long overdue step to begin to reform our criminal justice system.

I-940 would require law enforcement to:

  • Receive additional ongoing violence de-escalation, mental health and first aid training.
  • Mandate completely independent investigation and tribal notification in use-of-force cases.
  • Require that police render first aid at the scene when force is used.

In addition, it would amend the standard for justifiable use of deadly force by law enforcement, striking “malice” and creating both an objective and subjective “good faith” legal standard that must be met for force to be justified.

Passing I-940 means that the police, who we entrust to serve and protect us, will have the training, understanding and tools they need — and deserve to have — to better deal with the very challenging situations they face on a daily basis. It means that if situations do go awry and police use deadly force, there would be a better chance that those impacted by that force could survive. It means there would be more transparency in investigations into the use of force and the possibility of true accountability.

“We have to be able to change laws so that someone else’s family isn’t standing up here going through what we’re going through right now,” said Katrina Johnson, Lyles’s cousin, at the Initiative’s kickoff rally outside Seattle City Hall this past summer.

A total of 340,000 signatures are needed by late December to send the initiative to state lawmakers for the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers could then approve I-940, deny it (in which case it would go on the 2018 ballot) or amend the proposal (in which case both the original and amended version would go to voters).

Whether approved by the Legislature or sent back to the public for a vote, I-940 gives our state the best chance to develop more effective, compassionate responses to people in crisis. And that makes our state safer for us all.


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