On Thursday, September 22, Tulsa County District Attorney Stephen Kunzweiler announced Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Shelby would be charged with first-degree manslaughter after she shot and killed an unarmed black man on Friday, September 16, 2016, saying, “In the matter of the death of Terence Crutcher, I determined that the filing of the felony crime of manslaughter in the first degree against Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby is warranted.” Crutcher, who was 40 at the time of his death, was spotted by Shelby outside of his stalled car in the middle of the road while on her way to investigate a domestic disturbance call. Upon release of surveillance footage obtained from police dash-cams and a helicopter circling above, Crutcher can be seen walking toward his car with his hands in the air just prior to being shot. Apparently, officer Shelby called for backup after encountering the man, with a male officer telling her he had a stun gun, though why he would need a stun gun in the case of a man dealing with car trouble is beyond me. Claiming she “feared for her life,” Shelby alleged Crutcher approached the driver’s side window of his car and reached in to grab what she believed was a gun. The window in question was rolled up, and no weapons of any kind were found in his car or on his person. As the male officer reached for his taser, Shelby reached for her gun and shot him in the chest. The man lay dying in the street for over two minutes before either officer approached the body. I ask you, how is this not murder? Cold-blooded, unjustifiable, CAPITAL MURDER?
During a brief press conference regarding the charges against Shelby, Kunzweiler said, “The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Crutcher are on the hearts and minds of many people in this community. Despite the heightened tensions felt by all – which seemingly beg for an emotional response and reaction – our community has consistently demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process.” I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this type of blanket statement harder and harder to believe. While I understand the goal to maintain peace and civility in troubling times such as these, how much more can people of color be expected to take? I may not agree with retaliation through violence, but I certainly understand why there is a feeling of helpless rage. While we watch a suspected terrorist accused of setting off dozens of pipe bombs get taken away on a stretcher, after exchanging gunfire with police, to receive medical care before being arrested, unarmed black men continue to be left for dead in the streets for no other reason than the color of their skin at the hands of those chosen to protect and to serve us; ALL of us.
Amid the chaos of the shooting, details relating to Shelby’s personal life have begun to emerge. Shelby’s ex-husband (also a police officer, who was in the helicopter at the time of the murder) had since remarried and in 2002, his new wife filed a protective order against Shelby to put an end to alleged harassing phone calls continually made by her. She also faced a restraining order a decade prior (though it was later tossed out) as a result of damage she reportedly caused to her then-boyfriend’s car. In addition, she has two previous excessive force complaints on her record and she reportedly marked on a job application that she had, at one time, “possessed and used illegal drugs.” So you see, possession of a police badge doesn’t automatically equate to being a law-abiding citizen, though I doubt she was ever described or labeled as a “thug.”
If Shelby actually feared for her life on that day, (which I wholeheartedly disbelieve) there is no doubt in my mind she had been trained on how to effectively handle it, which I’m positive did not include murder. If your profession scares you so much it causes you to senselessly kill another human being, find a new profession, dammit. The charges against her carry a minimum sentence of four years; that is, if she is convicted. If she is, she will no doubt be held in protective custody to avoid any potential harm she would most certainly face in prison. Meanwhile, a man lost his life and his family is left to grieve while still having to fear they may meet the same fate. There is simply no justice in that.