‘Charleena Lyles’ — still saying her name a year after fatal shooting

Friends and family celebrate the life of Charleena Lyles during a One Year Remembrance Reflection and Healing event at Magnuson Park in Seattle, June 18, 2018. (All photos by Chloe Collyer for Crosscut)

It’s been a year since Seattle learned the name Charleena Lyles, the 30-year-old pregnant woman who was shot in the doorway of her Magnuson Park apartment by two Seattle police officers. In the days and months that followed, everyone — her family most of all — has wondered how it could be that the wiry framed African American mother could end up dead in her own home, three of her children looking on.

To mark the anniversary of her killing, family and friends hosted a picnic Monday evening just feet from where she died. 

Lyles was shot dead after she called the police to her apartment. According to police, she brandished knives at the officers. Both officers are White.

Her death upended the city, complicating the police department’s efforts to fulfill federally mandated reforms and seeding doubt that the Seattle Police Department had made the progress it claimed. Her family has sued the city, accusing the officers of not accounting for Lyles’ known mental illness and failing to properly de-escalate. In a filing Monday, the family accused one of the officers, Jason Anderson, of perjury.

The name Charleena Lyles has become synonymous with a score of systemic issues, from mental health services to public housing to police training to racism. It’s drawn the eye of national figures, including former Seahawks Michael Bennett who appeared at the event Monday.

But for all the weight of her death, its one year anniversary began with a field day of sorts, with games set out for children, including Wakanda Ball Pong, face painting, sack races and a game called Kerplunk. That’s how Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, wanted it. The past year “has been a living hell” as she and her family struggle with the death of a family member and caring for Lyles’ children. She’s worked over the last year to build community and to form relationships with law enforcement because that’s the only way she sees preventing another death, she said.

But this event was to be a happy one, to celebrate Lyles’ life. “The event is to keep her life remembered, to keep her name alive,” said Williams.

For Lyles’ neighbors, in the Magnuson Park affordable housing complex run by Solid Ground, the past year has been a struggle. “We had a lot of emotional damage,” said Lhorna Murray, who’s lived here since 2014. No one has wanted to talk about Lyles' death over the last year, she said, studiously avoiding the subject when they passed one another in the halls or on the way to the mailbox. “It affected our families in a hugely negative way.”

But recently, Murray realized avoiding talking about Lyles’ death meant the complex’s children hadn’t been afforded the opportunity to grieve. So in the last month, she helped organize a series of art therapy sessions for the young people.

It culminated Monday with an art show in one of Magnuson Park’s old buildings; some artwork depicts gun violence, others portray community. One boy, Kamarie, drew a frowning face because he was “heartbroken.”

On Monday, an especially hot June evening, singers, rappers and speakers took to a microphone. Lyles’ former home was the backdrop. Lyles’ family members looked on. The crowd said her name. 

A lantern flies into the evening sky at the conclusion of the Charleena Lyles One Year Remembrance Reflection and Healing event at Magnuson Park in Seattle, June 18, 2018.

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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.