TW: SHOOTING, DEATH, MURDER, POLICE, GENDER INEQUALITY, RACIAL INEQUALITY AND INJUSTICE
On Sept. 22, 2016, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office formally charged Officer Betty Shelby with first degree manslaughter for the shooting and murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. According to the dash cam footage captured from the police helicopter, the father of four was “following commands.” He posed no threat to Shelby. Nonetheless, she fired a single bullet at Crutcher, killing him.
Charging Shelby is the fair and right thing for the Tulsa DA to do. This is exactly what should happen after episodes of police brutality against innocent people, particularly black men and women.
I have a problem, however, with how the Tulsa DA charged Shelby.
Let’s start by taking a look what happened to the police officers involved in similar high profile murders of unarmed black people.
Sandra Bland. Although her family filed a federal lawsuit against Waller County, none of Bland’s jailers were indicted. In fact, the only one charged was the police officer who pulled her over, and it was for perjury, a misdemeanor. Although the county settled the lawsuit, it still denies any wrongdoing.
Eric Garner. Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted.
Alton Sterling. The police officer who shot him this summer has not been charged yet; according to The Advocate, the officer probably never will.
Philando Castile. Jeronimo Yanez has not been charged yet either. Instead, after a stint of paid administrative leave, he returned to the force, just to be put back on paid leave after a series of protests.
Michael Brown. Darren Wilson was not indicted.
In all of these cases, the police officers are men. They all got away with murder. In fact, they were all never even indicted in the first place, much less charged. To be honest, none of this would have come to my attention if it weren’t for how the Tulsa District Attorney (DA) announced that Shelby had been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
The Tulsa DA announced that she had “reacted unreasonably” and became “emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.” This is Wilson’s explanation as to why he shot Michael Brown: “Wilson stated that he feared Brown would again assault him because of Brown’s conduct at the SUV and because as Brown moved toward him, Wilson saw Brown reach his right hand under his t-shirt into what appeared to be his waistband. There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety.”
In both Shelby and Wilson’s cases, they were both scared for their lives because they perceived that both their unarmed victims “reached” for something that would threaten them. However, Wilson’s reaction is judged to be simply a reaction that the “prosecutors” can’t “disprove.”
According to the DOJ’s report, Wilson’s actions did NOT violate “the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute,” which means that Wilson did NOT behave in an “objectively unreasonable” way when he killed Michael Brown. The word “overreact” does not even show up in the report.
And yet Shelby was deemed “unreasonable.” She overreacted. She was too “emotionally involved.”
The Tulsa DA’s use of this kind of sexist language is unscrupulous and the exact reason why we need to monitor Shelby’s case. The fact that the DA could articulate such thoughts is disturbing, and if Shelby were to be found guilty by a jury on such charges, this would only go towards reinforcing the stereotype that women are too emotional to function in the police force, as well as the larger work force.
I am not saying that she shouldn’t be charged. She must be brought to justice.
What I am saying is that if she were to be found
guilty on these charges, we must demand that Darren Wilson, Jeronimo Yanez, Daniel Pantaleo, and all the male police officers who have killed black people be put on trial. These men cannot get away scot free for the same reason a woman has committed a crime.
Rest in power, Terence Crutcher.