I continue to think it’s important to understand that charging Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby with first-degree manslaughter in the death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was just a beginning and doesn’t mean she will be convicted or police tactics will change.
In case after case, cops shoot black people and walk away. What can we do? https://t.co/ef5A4MPvH4
— Salon (@Salon) October 2, 2016
In fact, the charges could be amended or dropped or Shelby, who has pleaded not guilty, could be acquitted. The Tulsa Police Department has no vested interested in admitting or conceding it poorly trains its officers in de-escalation tactics. None. The TPD has no vested interest in welcoming a citizen review board to oversee the actions of its officers, such as analyzing accusations of police brutality. None.
Shelby, of course, is the police officer who shot Crutcher to death Sept. 16 after he held his hands up in a gesture of surrender and walked around his car, which had come to a stop in the middle of a street. The surrender gesture was captured on a police dash cam video. Another officer shot him with a stun gun. It’s vitally important to note Crutcher, who is black, was unarmed. Shelby is white. One officer was recorded calling Crutcher a “big, bad dude” before he was gunned down.
Shelby’s attorney has argued that she suffered “auditory exclusion” during the encounter with Crutcher because it was such a high-pressure situation, and she didn’t even realize other officers were around her when she shot Crutcher in the chest, according to media reports. The main problem with this argument is that police work by its very nature is high pressure, and, if this argument prevails, it gives every police officer in the country an escape from being held responsible if they kill someone without a real cause.
In other words, an officer could simply argue, I was under so much pressure I fired my weapon. Case closed.
People have protested the Crutcher shooting in various events over the last couple of weeks, and so far it’s been peaceful. I attended a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Tulsa Sept. 24 that was peaceful yet forceful. Many people have praised Tulsa prosecutors for charging Shelby so quickly, but, as I argued earlier, that might have been a basic move to calm things on the streets.
I’m not alone in that view. Writing in Salon.com, D. Watkins, a professor and an Editor at Large for the site, references the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott, another black man, in Charlotte a few days later and the unrest that followed in that city. He speculates the charge against Shelby might be viewed as a “P.R. move” to prevent any street violence in Tulsa. Watkins writes:
Officer Betty Shelby, the Tulsa shooter, has been charged — but only with first-degree manslaughter, a charge she will probably beat. That honestly seems like a P.R. move to quell any potential unrest in Tulsa. Scott’s death sparked an uprising that led to a mandatory curfew in Charlotte, and I can’t help but think that played a role in Shelby’s charges.
I agree with Watkins on all his points, and I encourage you to read his entire article.
The senseless killings by police officers have got to stop, and the only way that’s going to happen is through sustained action and pressure. It has to happen in the public streets and in the public square. The charges against Shelby don’t mean much at this point. That doesn’t mean the charges are unimportant but I would speculate Tulsa’s leaders just want all this to go away. We can’t let that happen.