On September 16, 2016 a man named Terence Crutcher’s vehicle broke down in the middle of the road in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Police approached. He walked toward them. They drew weapons. He put his hands in the air. He walked toward his car. His placed his hands near his car. He was shot by one officer with a gun and another with a taser simultaneously. He died from his injuries after being left unattended in the road for more than three minutes. He was unarmed and there were no weapons in his vehicle.
None of that information is in dispute. (It does not match the initial officer statement which said he refused to put his hands up when asked. We know that was a lie. It also said that he was shot with a gun after being shot with a taser, to make it seem as though lethal force was necessary. That was also a lie.) It was captured from multiple angles. There was a police helicopter on the scene filming the interaction. There was a car dash cam showing the same. The video is easily accessible online. I will not link and would like never to see it again.
It’s as clear a case we’ve had of police misconduct as we’ve seen. Police lied about a shooting. Facts were caught on video. Case closed. All that’s missing is the officer sprinkling crack on the body.
It was so egregious, in fact, that the shooter was charged! How rare is that? Police kill about 1,000 people per year. There’s no national database so information is hard to find, but that’s the rough estimate most use. (The Washington Post recently started to track the information. There were 991 in 2015 and 963 in 2016) From 2005 to 2016, using that 1,000 annual estimate, police have killed 12,000 people. Of those 12,000 incidents, there have been 77 officers charged with murder or manslaughter. The killer of Terence Crutcher is part of that 0.64%.
So why are we talking about this case? A man was murdered. The district attorney decided to charge the killer. The trial hasn’t happened yet. What’s new? 60 Minutes is new.
Last night the news program did a story on Crutcher’s killing. They interviewed the officer charged with his death. She told her story. It was alarming.
It’s hard to say which part was the worst. There was so much here that was problematic.
- She said that she’s been the victim of a lynch mob. A white woman, in Tulsa, said that she’s the victim of a lynch mob. Lack of sensitivity is one thing. This is an ahistorical slap in the face that diminishes thousands who died in the US over being considered criminal. A lynch mob? A lynch mob would take her from her home, murder her publicly and likely receive no punishment. That’s a lynching. Her being charged with a crime and asked to be accountable for her actions is due process.
- For those who don’t know, Tulsa was the location of what might have been the largest race riot in the US. 10,000 blacks lost their homes, at least 300 were killed and another 800 were hospitalized when the police and white citizens leveled an entire neighborhood because they thought one black boy touched a white girl. She refused to press charges and later said it was a misunderstanding.
- She said Crutcher looked like a zombie. The killer of Mike Brown described him as a demon. Killing a human being is wrong. Living with that action is difficult. Killing a zombie is righteous. Diminishing Crutcher justifies the action. You can justify a lot of bad behavior if you remove the humanity from those you harm.
- One of the two people in the police helicopter said Crutcher “looked like a bad dude”. From that distance he could only tell that Crutcher was big and black. Pretending that “bad dude” summary had nothing to do with race is offensive. And they know it’s offensive. That’s why the defense is now fighting to make that slur inadmissible in court.
- When asked what could have made the situation better she said only that he should have complied. The fault, in her mind, was entirely with a dead man. I guess she did all she could.
Each of these statements is awful on its own. As part of a larger narrative it’s quite clear how this happens and why it will continue to happen.
Why did Crutcher get shot? Because the officer was afraid.
Why was she afraid? Because she thought Crutcher was reaching into his car for a weapon. Because he didn’t do as she told him. Because he looked like a zombie. Because he looked like a bad dude. Because, as her husband said, there’s a war on police.
In her mind, she’s a warrior sent to battle against forces out to harm her. Danger is around every corner. Big, black, bad dudes are zombies who are going to hurt her and everyone she loves. The war on police means it’s getting worse. The world is scary and we must be equipped to deal with it harshly at a moments notice. Her mind sounds like an awful place to be.
No one thinks that this woman went to work that day with the hope of killing a black person. That’s not realistic and it’s not the way these things work. She went to work wanting to do her shift, help some people and get home to her family. It’s just that she didn’t see Crutcher as one of the people she should help. Would her weapon have been drawn and pointed at Crutcher had he been an old woman? A six-year-old boy? No. Of course not. Those people are not identified as threats. He was. To pretend that his race, and the narrative around black men in this country, had nothing to do with his killing is willfully ignorant. Implicit bias is real. (You can test your own here.) A steady diet of stories about dangerous, scary black people is part of America. This woman didn’t drop in from another planet. She was raised in a culture that taught her to fear black people. She was trained to use lethal force when presented with a threat. Any black person is a potential threat. A black person who doesn’t do as he’s told must be subdued and punished. If there’s even a chance that he might be violent, he must be put down. What did he do that showed he might be violent? In her words, he looked at her while walking to his car. I might think he’s looking at an officer because that’s the expectation and that he’s walking toward his car to put his hands on it, which is what many of us were taught as a way of proving to police we are unarmed. She read that as him sizing her up for attack and attempting to reach into his car to retrieve a weapon. (He had no weapon in the car)
This is going to keep happening. It’s society’s problem, not the police. Police are meant to serve and protect people. Black people aren’t people. They’re zombies or bad dudes or demons or whatever dehumanizing slur they choose to use at the time. Police don’t protect us. We’re the thing they protect people from.
She won’t be convicted of this crime. Her defense, that being a police officer is scary work, will be confirmed by the jury. Her defense, that we can’t know since we weren’t there, will be confirmed by the jury. Her defense, that big, black, bad dudes are zombies who are going to hurt everyone, will be confirmed by the jury. Her defense, that if they were in the same position they’d have done the same thing, will be confirmed by the jury. Wash, rinse, repeat.