Yes, you read that right. Charleena Lyles was a thirty-year-old disabled black single mother, who was fatally shot in her apartment by Seattle Police Department on June 18. SPD responded to a call made by Lyles saying that there was a burglary taking place at her apartment, and at some point, Lyles displayed a knife and these two officers shot and killed Ms. Lyles in front of her children, knowing that Ms. Lyles was several months pregnant. (And yes, SPD confirmed that both officers were, in fact, white.)
Family of Lyles appeared on the scene moments later, informing police of facts they already knew. Lyles suffered from mental health issues, she was several months pregnant, and Lyles was not a big or tall woman, she was tiny. So, why was it that SPD felt the need to shoot and kill Lyles when they knew of her prior history? When they knew there was absolutely no chance of Lyles posing a threat to the police as she was half the officer’s size?
“Why couldn’t they have tased her? They could have taken her down, I could have taken her down,” said Monika Williams, Lyle’s sister, to the Seattle Times.
The answer to that question lies in several of our hearts, but every day we continually choose to ignore the reality of our system. Fact of the matter is, the system is designed to oppress the minority, and here we encounter two of the -isms at a deadly intersection point: racism and ableism.
Despite the fact that police were already aware of Lyles’ mental health prior to her death and did not choose the effective and proper methods in dealing with high escalated situations concerning people with disabilities, they chose to kill someone who was in dire need of help instead. Police resorted to their method of killing because all they focused on was their fear of Lyles’ disability and skin color.
Overviewing the case of Charleena Lyles rings a bell of a similar case that happened in El Cajon, California last year. Which involved a 30-year-old mentally disabled unarmed black man, Alfred Olango, being fatally shot by police in a strip mall. Reports say that Olango’s sister, first called the authorities for medical assistance, as she was concerned because she witnessed Olango having a seizure. Unknowingly, the Olango family did not know that the officer’s ignorance of disability and race would get in the way of Olango’s life.
In fact, as we review Lyles’ and Olango’s similarities in the cases, we discuss how disability and race have caused the death of Charleena Lyles and Alfred Olango. However, it’s not just the two of them. A study done by thinkprocess.com concluded that half of the people shot by police consisted of disabled people of color. Yes, half.
I am an empowered activist and community member of the disabled community, and the fact that many people don’t know about this information in and outside of my community is upsetting. Racism and ableism are a common intersection that is lived by hundreds of people all around the world – including myself. And the fact that people are erasing Charleena Lyles’ disability in this case along with millions of other victims is demoralizing. We exist. We stand with you. Please stand with us.