Details are still emerging around the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, a pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma by the Tulsa Police Department. Both aerial helicopter footage and dashcam footage show this aspiring singer and local minister with his hands up prior to him being tased and then lethally shot by Officer Betty Shelby.
The police are saying that he “refused to follow the officer’s commands.” The attempts to justify and rationalize his killing have of course already begun. We have seen this routine before. In fact, it has become a ritual of the rationalization and justification for snuffing out black lives across America that has grown painfully familiar.
1) There will be attempts to somehow demonize him and to do whatever is necessary to sanitize and rationalize his murder. People will search through his record to see if he had prior convictions, felonies, DUIs, angry Facebook posts, pictures with him holding up gang signs, or anything that could possibly rationalize the shooting and killing of an unarmed man in the minds of a nation that want to ease their conscience and just turn the channel and watch the football game (as long as the players don’t kneel during the National Anthem, because then they are boycotting it).
2) There will be arguments made by the “experts” about black on black crime. They will be sure to be made in such a way as to conveniently ignore the work that peace activists and anti-gang workers have been doing in our community for decades and continue to do. They will of course also conveniently ignore the tragic violence of white-on-white crime, of Asian-on-Asian crime, on Hispanic-on-Hispanic crime, (and the list goes on and on) because it would be just too much to acknowledge that nearly all violent crime is intraracial.
3) There will next be experts who will posit a “bad apple” theory implying that there is nothing wrong with the way that policing is done and no need to transform and re-imagine a new way to do public safety in America that is not rooted in a history of slave-catching, Jim Crow, a War on “Drugs”, or militarization.
4) There will be outrage by the activist community, a community that is exhausted and beleaguered with grief. That community will promptly be told that they are not protesting appropriately, that they are not grieving appropriately, and that they are not mourning in the right way. The activist community will also be told that they have not made their demands clear. Then when they make their demands clear they will be told that they are either not specific enough or that they are too unrealistic.
5) There will be a period of detente until the next unarmed “suspect” is shot, choked, beaten, or is found mysteriously dead in a prison cell.
6) A community sits in mourning yet again.
7) Stop Tape. Rewind. Press Play.
When, oh Lord? When will this end?!!!!
For those who are actually listening to the pain of our community and attempting to sit with us in our grief, many of you are finding that too often it doesn’t matter if you have your hands up. It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor and your car has stalled on the side of the road and you are waving down an officer because you need help. It doesn’t matter if you are walking back to your car with your hands up and your back is turned. It doesn’t matter if you have already been tased and you are now on the ground.
It doesn’t matter if you are a millionaire tennis star. You “fit the description.” It doesn’t matter if you are 12 years old and playing at the park. You are “big for your age.” It doesn’t matter if you are dying and gasping for air, you are “resisting arrest.” It doesn’t matter if you are selling loose cigarettes, bootleg CDs, or if you have your PhD. It also doesn’t matter if you are in an open carry state and you are trying to show the officer your permit. Whatever, “it” is, it just doesn’t not seem to matter at all.
Sometimes all that matters is that one human being is deathly afraid of another...so afraid that now one of them is dead with a family and a community now mourns, and the other is on paid administrative leave and at home with her family that also mourns.
Yet this ritual is anything but new to black people in America, particularly those who know their history. The context of this shooting happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where an angry mob of over 300 whites burned down an entire community of 8,000 black businesses in 1921 is certainly not lost on the tragedy that occurred this past weekend. If you know someone from Tulsa or who has family in Tulsa, then you know that the Tulsa riots are an event that many in the community are still afraid to even talk about. Still the few remaining survivors have not received a dime of restitution for their losses, the massacre was kept from textbooks until 4 years ago, and the city only formally apologized 3 years ago. In fact, in his apology, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan acknowledged that it was police who not only refused to help the victims, but actually helped set this black community ablaze. Even worse, the Federal Highway Commission even built a highway overpass directly through this community as though to erase its very existence. Now, almost one hundred years later, this community who has already been traumatized by the pain of near annihilation and erasure will again have to sit in sackloth and ashes.
Another shooting, another hashtag, another community in mourning. This is our new normal. This is our new ritual of rationalization, justification, and silence in the face of the erasure of black lives. Yet, if you possess the complicated, weighty, yet beautiful gift of having a black body in America, you know that there is nothing new about this ritual at all. #TerenceCrutcher.