On Tuesday, Tulsa police released video and audio of the Friday shooting of Terence Crutcher, a black man whose car reportedly broke down in the middle of the road. Black Lives Matter activists on Twitter and in Tulsa, Okla., spoke out about this event, arguing that the incident was just another example of police shooting black people due to the color of their skin.
Footage from a helicopter flying above the scene is harrowing — one police officer refers to the unarmed Crutcher as a “bad dude,” as the black man walks back to his car with his hands up. Then an officer (later identified as Betty Shelby) shoots and kills the man. Here is the video — warning, it is disturbing:
From this video alone, anger seems the appropriate response. But there is more to the story.
After 7:30 p.m. on Friday, September 16, two 911 calls reached dispatch. A woman reported an abandoned vehicle blocking the road. “Somebody left their vehicle running in the middle of the street with their doors wide open,” the caller said, according to a CNN report. “The doors are open, the vehicle is still running. It’s an SUV. It’s in the middle of the street, it’s blocking traffic.”
The next part of her call would really catch police attention: The woman added that “the guy was running from” the vehicle, after warning her that it was going to “blow up.”
Officer Shelby, who is white, was headed to a domestic violence call when she arrived first at the scene. She told dispatch that “she’s not having cooperation” from Crutcher.
Tulsa Police Public Information Officer Jeanne MacKenzie said the officers on the ground thought Crutcher had reached his hands into the driver’s side window of the vehicle, perhaps to draw a weapon. Then Crutcher fell to the ground, as captured by multiple videos.
One man, pointing to footage from the helicopter video, argued that Crutcher’s hands were not up when he got shot. This does not mean Shelby was justified in shooting him, but it does complicate the narrative.
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) September 20, 2016
“I think he may have just been Tasered,” an officer said over the radio. “Shots fired!” a female officer replied. Footage from the helicopter clearly revealed blood on the man’s body, as he lay in the middle of the street.
Tulsa Chief of Police Chuck Jordan called the released footage “very disturbing and difficult to watch.” He also confirmed that Shelby had fired one shot and Officer Tyler Turnbough had deployed his Taser. A search revealed no weapons on Crutcher or in his vehicle.
Shelby has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a criminal investigation. She joined the police force in 2011, after having worked for the county sheriff’s department for four years. Her attorney described her record as clean.
Both the U.S. Department of Justice and state authorities have launched investigations into the officer-involved shooting.
Next Page: The Black Lives Matter response.
Upon the release of the footage and audio of the shooting, Black Lives Matter activists took to social media and to the Tulsa courthouse to protest.
RIP #TerenceCrutcher How tf the officer in the heli gon say "he looks like a bad dude" How TF CAN YOU TELL HE LOOKS BAD? CAUSE HE'S BLACK??!
— Karrueche Tran (@karrueche) September 20, 2016
While you were busy questioning Colin Kaepernick's patriotism, the police murdered #TerenceCrutcher on his way home from college.
— Sean Kent (@seankent) September 20, 2016
People shouldn't continue wondering why black communities don't trust the police, the evidence is literally all around us. #TerenceCrutcher
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) September 19, 2016
Nothing black people can do around police to ensure they are not shot & killed. Being black is enough for them to shoot. #TerenceCrutcher
— Sam White (@samwhiteout) September 19, 2016
Add "car breaking down" to the seemingly ever-growing list of things that can get you killed by cops if you're Black.#TerenceCrutcher
— Jesse Benn (@JesseBenn) September 19, 2016
Many pointed to a double standard between Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was shot and wounded by police, and Crutcher, who was shot and killed.
NY/NJ Bombing Suspect:
• Shootout w/ cops
• Shot cop in the arm
• Arrested ALIVE#TerenceCrutcher:
• Car broke down
• Hands up
• Shot DEAD
— NUFF (@nuffsaidny) September 20, 2016
This comparison is unfair on many levels — the cops in question were not even in the same state. The police who wounded Rahami in New Jersey were very much not the same ones who tragically killed Crutcher in Oklahoma.
Protesters also gathered at the Tulsa courthouse.
— Kyle Hinchey (@KyleHinchey) September 19, 2016
A Tulsa businessman donated $100 on the spot to the protest organizer, saying police shootings “have got to stop.”
Tulsa businessman Scott Pendleton (right) handed $100 to protest organizer. "(Police shootings) have got to stop" pic.twitter.com/UrlxErz3mY
— Kyle Hinchey (@KyleHinchey) September 19, 2016
The victim’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, called for immediate charges against Shelby, calling her “incompetent.”
The twin sister quoted the video calling Crutcher a “bad dude.”
That big bad dude was a father. That big bad dude was a son. That big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College, just wanting to make us proud. That big bad dude loved God. That big bad dude was at church singing with all of his flaws, every week. That big bad dude, that’s who he was.
Next Page: Tulsa council member warns against riots like in Ferguson, Milwaukee.
Jack Henderson, a member of the Tulsa council, promised that authorities would get to the bottom of what happened last Friday. CNN reported that he called for Tulsa “to remain a strong city, a together city,” in contrast to the violence and conflict seen in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Md., and Milwaukee, Wisc.
“We’ve already got two families’ lives who will be affected forever,” the council member said. “We don’t need some more lives to be changed this way.”
Mobs burned and looted in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, following the death of black men at the hands of police in each city. The violence proved particularly terrifying in Milwaukee last month, where rioters chanted “Black Power!” as a gas station was engulfed in flame, and one video even revealed protesters targeting a white man they did not know, due to the color of his skin.
As more information came out about the Milwaukee man whose death sparked the riots, it appeared that the police were justified in taking lethal action. A similar case was true for Michael Brown, who was shot after he had carried out a robbery in Ferguson. While both a local grand jury and an FBI investigation ruled his shooting to have been justified, Black Lives Matter activists attacked the criminal justice system itself as unjust. Later testimony revealed that Brown did not utter the slogan “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” but activists continue to use it as a rallying cry.
Crutcher’s case seems more straightforward, and it appears a truly tragic miscarriage of justice. Nevertheless, more investigation is necessary.
A few things are clear, however. Crutcher was unarmed. Police were on alert because the 911 caller said Crutcher expected the car to “blow up.” Shelby was alone in shooting the man, and Turnbough’s use of the Taser seems to suggest that deadly force was not necessary. With any luck, the authorities will punish Shelby, and the death of Terence Crutcher will serve as an example that police who use deadly force when other options are available will be held accountable for such a tragic mistake.
Nevertheless, it is important that investigations be neutral and discover the truth of the matter. Our first impressions of this case could be wrong, and we need to be as humble in seeking the truth as we are vigilant about pursuing justice. Let us mourn Terence Crutcher, and pray that his tragic death does not divide us further.