On September 16th, 2016, in the middle of 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma, an unarmed 40 year old black man Terence Crutcher was shot dead by white police officer Betty Shelby, which caused community and nationwide outrage, protests, and vigils.
Nearly two years after his death, a piece of footage, captured by Colorado based photographer Colin Flora, has emerged on the internet of folk-singer Josh Okeefe performing one of his songs named after, and written about, Terence Crutcher, at Cornelia Fort Airpark, TN.
The footage reaks in resemblance to some of America’s very famous civil rights protests and in particular Greenwood, Mississippi which included some iconic and historical musical performances, so one could say that the young songwriter Okeefe is following in the footsteps of his forefathers Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
Josh Okeefe’s unique raw storytelling of Terence Crutcher hits home with immense conviction. The song takes you on a haunting descriptive journey of Crutcher’s final hours on this earth and without opinion but simple brutal truth and honesty Okeefe raises awareness of police brutality in todays America.
"I’m just singing my tune, whatever I write down, the mumble jumble, hustle and bustle, the every day kinda stuff.” Okeefe shares with Huffington Post when pressed on the reason behind writing the song. From reading previous articles the distant, atmospheric answer comes at no surprise but it is obvious that Josh Okeefe is very up close, present and right in your face in these hard, hard times.
Colin Kaepernick lit a fire within the NFL and the sporting world last year by kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner at the 49ers third pre-season game. Since then Kaepernick has changed the focus of the pre game national anthem from dazzling military flyovers and belting vocal performances to a great number of players joining Kaepernick in kneeling, linking arms and silent protests in support of people of colour being oppressed by the United States and taking a stand against police brutality.
One could say Josh Okeefe and Colin Kaepernick come from two different worlds, especially with Okeefe’s skin color being white and him writing songs for a living but after watching Okeefe’s live performance of 'Terence Crutcher' one could say they they have a common thread in not being afraid and standing up for what they believe in and in this matter the very same subject.
In this black and white footage you can hear the jangling of Josh Okeefe’s erratic bluesy guitar which is very similar in sound to a Leadbelly or a Robert Johnson and just like both of those legendary musicians Josh’s lyric hits you like a dagger in the heart. “When do the chains finally break?” and “The world saw the lynching postcard, its just a different kind of noose” are just two headlines out of a masterpiece.
“Big Bad Dude” is the reoccurring line in this song and it is important because it was what the officers in the police helicopter on September 16th said on their radio when they saw Terence Crutcher from above. The last line of the song Josh Okeefe remarkably switches this to “Big Black Dude”!
He seems to turn a lightbulb on in your head, makes you ask yourself questions and seems to say what is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Is he the next commentator for this generation? Only time will tell.