To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
July 13, 2017
RE: Seattle Workers' Voice #6

On the police killings of Charleena Lyles and Tommy Le:
When the system has committed murder,
justice must come through mass struggle!

The protest movement against police shootings continues in Seattle.  On July 6, De-escalate Washington held a press conference. On July 8, about 30 activists marched from North Seattle Community College to a community picnic in the Seattle Police Department's North Precinct and set up a vigil space for Charleena Lyles. On  July 9, about a hundred activists marched through Seattle in memory of Philando Castile, a black man murdered by police in Minnesota, and against the acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez for his death. On July 10, there was public memorial for Charleena Lyles. The following leaflet was written for the July 9th march and subsequent actions that will be taking place in the movement against wanton police shooting.

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On June 19 the Seattle Police Department released transcripts of their interviews with the killers of Charleena Lyles, officers McNew and Anderson. ( The transcripts are damning: There's discussion of Charleena making "weird statements " and having a pair of scissors during a previous police visit, but both cops say they weren't trained in how to disarm someone with a knife! Anderson says he was only 4-5 feet in back of or to the side of Charleena, but the SPD interviewers don't even ask him why he didn't grab or tackle her. Both cops say they had batons, and Anderson says he also had pepper spray. But rather than use a civilized method of dealing with the situation, both cops say they pulled their Glocks, gripped them with both hands, and between them fired five times to kill, i.e., they aimed at center body mass. That is something they were trained to do. (1)

The June 13 police killing of 20-year-old Tommy Le in Burien raised the same issues: Tommy was popular, and was going to graduate from the alternative high-school completion program at South Seattle College the next day. But for some reason he was acting strangely the night of his killing. According to the initial Sheriff's report, Le had chased a neighbor into a house, pounded on the door with a  "knife or some sort of sharp object, " and yelled he was  "the Creator " and such. The resident fired a warning shot and several people called the police. Two Sheriff's deputies then found Le -- who was without shoes -- and tased him when he didn't drop what he had in his hand. But when the tasers didn't work the cops didn't back away and prepare to physically deal with Le if he charged. No, they  "feared for their lives " so much from this small Vietnamese-American that Deputy Molina just  "had to " kill him with three pistol shots. A week later the King County Sheriff’s Office revealed that Tommy Le had only had a fountain pen.

The killings of Ms. Lyles and Mr. Le were murders, but murders which don't easily fit into the bourgeois legal categories of murder or manslaughter. Moreover, the top police officials responsible for policy and training, as well as the Mayor's Office, City Council and County officials who supposedly oversee these departments, are just as guilty of these murders as the cops who pulled the triggers. They all know that how to disarm most people with a knife is easily learned. And they all know the policy to aim at center body mass means shoot to kill when a bullet to a victim's shoulder or leg would often have been enough. Indeed, the shoot-to-kill policy has been protested for generations in every part of the country, yet our local liberal politicians do nothing to get rid of it.

Why? The fundamental job of the police is _not_ to defend the masses of people from petty criminals of all kinds, but to enforce order in the unjust capitalist system.  And this includes suppressing the inevitable mass resistance struggles or rebellions of the people, e.g., forcefully disbanding the Occupy Wall Street encampments, repeatedly attacking the big movement against the racist police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, attacking the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline ... the list is never-ending.  So this is why the politicians of both capitalist parties have increasingly militarized the police forces for decades. It's why the police invariably view the masses of working people as suspects or enemies, and particularly view African Americans and other specially oppressed working people as such. For example, note how Officer Anderson constantly refers to Charleena Lyles as  "the suspect " in his SPD interview, even though it was she who'd called the police to investigate a burglary. And it's why the politicians normally give the police everything they want, including the right to kill poor and national minority people with impunity.

But mass struggle can change this situation.  The blatant murder of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk in 2010 led to a protest movement that would not go away.  In fact, many people active in that movement are active in today's movement to get justice for Charleena Lyles. Although Birk was never charged for murdering Williams, he was forced to quit the SPD. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice was forced to launch a formal civil rights investigation of the SPD's consistently excessive use of force, especially against minorities, and under the resulting consent decree the SPD has made various reforms.

The DOJ-ordered reforms were obviously not intended to change the SPD's basic role as a suppressor of the mass struggles of the people.  But they do include such things as training in de-escalation tactics to use with individuals, and Officers McNew and Anderson had in fact gone through this training.  But there was no time to use it in Charleena Lyles' apartment.

So more is obviously demanded, e.g., training in how to disarm someone with a knife or other threatening implement; outlawing the use of firearms when disarming tactics and/or the use of batons, pepper spray or tasers are all that is necessary.  In building the movement to win such demands we'll be fighting to stop some of the cops'  "guns first " savagery and privileged impunity.  And during the course of building this movement we should not forget that the basic role of the police as oppressive, authoritarian defenders of the inherently racist capitalist order will remain.  That order has to go.

Justice for Charleena Lyles and Tommy Le!

(1) For more on the killing of Charleena Lyles, see

Seattle Communist Study Group, 7/8/2017 (revised 7/12/2017) <>

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Posted on August 25, 2017.