Say Her Name: A Vigil for Charleena Lyles

On June 18th, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was killed by the police in her home, in Seattle, WA. Three of Charleena’s children were home when the shooting occurred, and there can be no doubt that witnessing the violent death of their mother will affect them for a lifetime. She had called the Seattle Police Department to report a burglary. The police officers knew that Charleena suffered from mental health issues and knew that she was a survivor of domestic violence and yet they did nothing to de-escalate the situation when they claimed Charleena brandished a knife. Charleena was a petite woman and her family has argued that the officers should have been able to subdue her with less than deadly force.

Several days after Charleena’s death, her cousin, Tiffani Hill of Los Angeles contacted the African American Policy Forum. She wanted to know what she should do to help raise awareness about what had happened to her cousin Charleena, and asked for support as she put together a vigil in Los Angeles where many of Charleena family members live.

The vigil for Charleena took place at Leimert park a week after Charleena’s death. The family was joined by their pastor, community members, and Fran Garrett one of the mothers of the Say Her Name movement who lost her daughter in a similar encounter with police. The vigil consisted of prayer, song, reflection on Charleena’s life, and ended with the group Saying Her Name to lift up Charleena Lyles.  

AAPF Reflects on the Tragic Deaths of Charleena Lyles and Philando Castile

AAPF Reflects on the Tragic Deaths of Charleena Lyles & Philando Castile

Charleena Lyles should still be alive today. Her death fresh on the heels of the acquittal of Philando Castile’s murderer makes plain the ways that Black life continues to be devalued in our daily lives. As we mourn for Charleena and Philando we also lift up their families, particularly the children who had to witness the murder of a parent or parental figure. We are outraged by the continued violence against Black women and men, and the clear disregard for the endangerment of Black children. We are also concerned that the rise of overtly racist rhetoric seen across the country and propagated by the current president will continue to leave communities of color more vulnerable than ever before.

All too often women are afterthoughts in the struggles against state violence, however Charleena’s death reveals that her gender offered no protection against claims that deadly force was necessary.  Charleena Lyles was a pregnant Black mother of four who called the police to report a burglary in her home.  Tragically, like all too many Black women calling for help, her fears that she would be harmed were realized--not by the suspected burglar, but by the two white officers that entered her home.  Three of Charleena’s children were home with her in their north Seattle apartment when the shooting occurred.  Although physically unharmed, there is no doubt that witnessing the violent death of their mother will affect them for a lifetime.

Charleena Lyles’ life and death reflect the ways that living as a poor, Black women with mental illness constitutes a grave risk of being killed by police.  Deborah Danner, a Black woman who also lived with mental illness, wrote poignantly about the daily risk she faced of losing her life at the hands of police.  Her worst fears come true when she too was shot to death in her apartment by a New York City police officer.  In both cases, the fact that the women were known to police as suffering from mental illness did little to encourage officers to de-escalate the encounters.  In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that their awareness of their mental illness may have lessened their commitment to save their lives rather than to endanger them.

The audio recording from the officer’s dashcam shows that they knew going in that there were mental health issues that would prompt de-escalation techniques, yet they resorted to deadly force when, according to their account, the petite woman brandished a knife.  

Like so many other Black women who were killed by the very officers who were called to help--women like Natasha McKenna, Tanisha Anderson, Aura Rosser--we grieve for Charleena Lyles and demand that we #SayHerName in the pursuit of justice for her and her children.  

Yet the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killer shows that we have a long way to go in the fight for police accountability.  Philando Castile did everything he could to mitigate the officer’s fear, he was courteous, and informed the officer of his firearm and yet it appears that an officer's fear is always reasonable no matter how hard we try to assuage it. Holding officers accountable for these senseless shootings will be virtually impossible so long as an officer’s  claim of fear is greater than any and all evidence that less lethal measures were available.  Homicide should never be justified as prophylactic measures to allay the anxieties, whims, biases, and distortions of state employees equipped with a badge and a gun.  As a society, we must ask ourselves if someone can truly be fit to serve as an officer if they are afraid of the community they are supposed to serve and protect. We must insist that officers cannot be both innocent victims of fear and executors of state violence.

Thank You For Helping Us Ring in 20 Years of Intersectionality!

Thank you for your support of our 20th Anniversary and our Say Her Name: 20 Years of Intersectionality in Action Gala! The amazing generosity of individuals like you is what made it such a success and is what enables AAPF to continue nurturing and developing intersectional community building, activism, and research, as we center and uplift women and girls of color.  

Enjoy the photos below and share yours on social media using the hashtag #AAPFTurns20!

Click Below To View The Program

Calling All Young Artist Activists!

AAPF Youth Arts Competition 2017

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In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the African American Policy Forum wants to hear from you! If you are between the ages of 13 and 22, enter your original artwork for the chance to be featured at AAPF’s 20th Anniversary Gala. Six winners will be selected for the opportunity to come to New York City to attend the Gala, which will celebrate 20 years of the Forum’s work advancing and expanding racial justice, gender equality, and the indivisibility of all human rights. In recognition of the transformative power of art to communicate, unite, and advocate, we seek to celebrate the dynamic vision and unique voice of young artists everywhere. We encourage entries to draw inspiration from one of our campaigns to promote an intersectional framework, including: #BlackGirlsMatter, #BreakingTheSilence, #HerDreamDeferred, #SayHerName, and #WhyWeCantWait, or art that ties to intersectionality generally. We are accepting artwork in each of the following categories: 1. Music; 2. Spoken word/theatrical performance; 3. Dance; 4. Visual art and photography. 

Entries will be judged in three age groups, 13-15, 16-19, and 20-22. One standout performative piece and one stand out visual piece will be selected as winners in each age group and will receive a $250 cash prize. Grand prize winners will receive the cash prize and have the chance to come to NYC and present/perform their art at the Gala!

TO ENTER: Fill out this form and upload your art for submission by Monday May 1, 2017. Please keep all videos to five minutes or less. Winners will be announced by May 15th.

Contact if you have any questions.

Highlights from the Greensboro Town Hall

This past weekend, we were honored to host our town hall series in Greensboro, North Carolina. See some highlights and feedback from our attendees below!

Thank you for an EXCELLENT program. I really enjoyed the panel and hearing directly from the young ladies. I also appreciate the commissioners pledging follow-up to what was said so together we can make a difference.
— Town Hall Attendee

AAPF at the Women's March in DC

On January 20, in preparation for the next day’s march, AAPF joined Eve Ensler and One Billion Rising for “The Poetry of Rising and Resistance.” Hosted at Busboys and Poets, the event brought together hundreds to eat, drink and discuss the upcoming rally. Social justice leaders and several artists, including Grammy-nominated singer, Hollis Wong-Wear and noted documentarian Michael Moore, got up on stage to discuss the possibilities for progressive resistance in the new era of Trump. Renowned playwright and AAPF Board Member, Eve Ensler, recited a rousing poem, chanting "it is not alright!" to the crowd. As the night came to a close, Kimberlé brought Abby Dobson, AAPF Artist-in-Residence, to the stage to perform Say Her Name, asking the audience to reckon with state violence against Black women and girls and elevating their place within the context of the coming march. We also debuted our new “Predator-in-Chief and his villainous villains” design. A humorous take on a dark subject, the design was wildly successful throughout the weekend, popping up on signs and posters at marches across the country.

On January 21, AAPF took to the streets with the ground-breaking half-a-million protesters marching in Washington D.C. Amidst the calls and chants for massive resistance to the incoming administration’s agenda, our team raised our voices to highlight the special role that women and girls of color must play in the future of social justice. Together with Fran Garrett, the mother of Michelle Cusseaux, Rhanda Dormeus, the mother of Korryn Gaines, and Vicky Coles-McAdory, the “Auntie-Momma” of India Beaty, we marched for the recognition of the Black women killed by police. We are deeply thankful to One Billion Rising, V-Day and all those who joined us for lending their voices to center Black women and girls in a space that was largely white and, at times, exclusionary of many of those who are structurally marginalized in our society.

The AAPF team and friends.

The AAPF team and friends.

#SayHerName marched in Denmark too! (Credit: Wilfred Gachau)

#SayHerName marched in Denmark too!
(Credit: Wilfred Gachau)

In the aftermath of the March, our Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw and Associate Director Julia Sharpe-Levine participated in Where We Go From Here: A Women’s Reception and Town Hall hosted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Sitting alongside other giants in contemporary feminist activism including Cecile Richards (Planned Parenthood), Linda Sarsour (The Women’s March; Arab American Association of New York), and Claudia Galindo (National Domestic Worker’s Alliance), Kimberlé spoke on the state of contemporary intersectional activism and the need to deepen our engagement with uplifting and advocating for those who experience oppression across the spectrum of identity. Afterwards, Julia offered the crowd tips on how to utilize the momentum from the march to support women and girls of color as well as different ways to incorporate intersectional thinking into their movements.

We left the Women's March with a greater understanding of the state of intersectional activism and the work that lies ahead. AAPF must redouble its commitment to educate and advocate around intersectional feminism; to raise awareness of the issues faced by women of color at the margins of our society; to support the leadership of women of color; and to demand accountability from our allies as we push for a cross-coalitional movement that supports all of us. If you too walked away from last weekend determined to do more, we urge you to stand with us. It is essential that we show up and work with each other. Only then can we build a truly interconnected movement of movements that is centered around the experiences of those who are most vulnerable.