Some people said a knife-wielding man wasn't shot during an hours-long standoff in Seattle because he was white. But, in fact, he was black.
In the hours after two white police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a black mother of four, information — and speculation — spread like wildfire on social media.
Conversation centered on racial bias and whether it played a role in the shooting of the woman, who had called police to her Magnuson Park apartment to report a burglary.
Although that discussion is still playing out, one widely shared characterization was wrong.
Many compared Lyles’ killing to a March police standoff with a knife-wielding man downtown. That hours-long standoff ended peacefully, and some suggested the man wasn’t shot by officers because he was white.
In fact, the man was black, according to a police-incident report.
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The notion that the man in the standoff was white was spread widely on social media during high-profile coverage of Lyles’ killing and was picked up by local organizations.
The news website Crosscut misreported the man’s race in a story, but quickly corrected the error.
The Seattle Human Rights Commission and The Commission for People with Disabilities mentioned the March 28 incident in a statement about Lyles’ shooting.
“This use of deadly force against a woman of color is particularly troublesome, because the Seattle Police Department used the exact opposite response when they were confronted by a knife-wielding White male in Downtown Seattle in March of this year,” the commissions wrote on Facebook.
Seattle Human Rights Commission co-chair Jeremy Wood said several people crafted the statement, and the error had come from social media and “the popular understanding of the identity of the individual downtown.” No one realized the mistake.
He said the comparison between the two situations was important, though.
“I think the comparison is apt, even if it isn’t explicitly racial,” Wood said, noting that police displayed caution downtown during the public incident, but “rushed to use deadly force” in Lyles’ home and “seemed unprepared to deploy measures other than force.”
“I think it’s important to recognize the reasons why folks on social media might have rushed to that judgment. … The trend of unaddressed police killings of people of color have been so rampant and concerning in recent years,” Wood added.
Since Sunday, a Seattle Times story about the March 28 standoff has been viewed thousands of times, according to our analytics. Many viewers arrived to the story from Facebook, Twitter or sites such as The Root, where people have posted in comments sections.
The story does not describe the man’s race or appearance, though a photo of him, from a distance, was included with the story.
It describes how police negotiated with the agitated man for several hours while he paced in the street with a knife and asked police to shoot him.
They did not. Instead, they tried using Tasers on the man, but those didn’t work.
Eventually, police were able to de-escalate the situation. No one was hurt. The man was taken to a medical center for an evaluation.
In Lyles’ case, one of the two officers who opened fire asked the other to deploy a Taser. The response: “I don’t have a Taser,” according to a police transcript.