New initiative to deescalate violence

police car with crime scene tape
Matthew Rietveld / The Watchdog

On June 18, Charleena Lyles was killed in her Seattle home by police after reporting a break-in. Partially in response to the shooting, a coalition of groups has put forth Initiative 940, called De-Escalate Washington, to “[…] make our communities safer. This is accomplished by requiring law enforcement officers to obtain violence de-escalation and mental health training, so that officers will have greater skills to resolve conflicts without the use of physical or deadly force,” according to the text of the initiative.

The initiative also seeks to train police officers in first aid as well as requiring them to give aid, “which will save lives and be a positive point of contact between law enforcement officers and community members to increase trust and reduce conflicts.”

The coalition putting forth the initiative, also called De-Escalate Washington, describes itself on their website as “a coalition of individuals and organizations who believe that police should use deadly force only when unavoidable and as a last resort” and states that “The Coalition members believe that race and bias are a factor in policing and as a result people of color and marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by police violence.”

Lyles was well known to the police and had a history of mental illness, according the Seattle Times. Police were called to her apartment 23 times and on a previous occasion, had spoken about her ability to turn into a wolf and clone her daughter. While Lyle was allegedly brandishing a knife at police officers when she was shot, some believe that she did not pose enough of a danger and that lethal force was not justified. “Instead of kill, shoot first, let’s de-escalate first. Let’s see if we can disarm her first, not kill her,” said Tonya Isabell, Lyle’s aunt, to KING 5 news.

City councilmember Tim Burgess stated “This incident is absolutely tragic and there are huge ramifications and despite all of the change and all of the gains we’ve seen in the Police Department, it takes just one incident to erase all that and we’re back to square one, starting over,” he said. “That’s why I’m so pleased [SPD has] taken this total transparency approach. That’s what will build lasting trust,” according to the Seattle Times.

The initiative requires 260,000 signatures by Dec. 29 to be considered by state legislators in the 2018 session. If denied or amended, the initiative will be on the 2018 ballot to be decided by the voters.

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