In the past year, there has been a lot of criticism about police shootings of black men. The events of many of the cases seem to suggest that officers responded with unnecessary force to unthreatening people because they assume that all black men are criminals. Unfortunately, the case of Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma seems to just add further proof to the theory that some police officers may be targeting black males.
On September 16, Tulsa police officers got a call that a vehicle was stopped on the road, blocking traffic. When police officers went to respond, backup was immediately called because Crutcher was not responding to police commands. Ultimately, a few squad cars and a helicopter all zeroed in on the area. Somehow, Crutcher ended up shot in the back, and he died shortly after.
In footage that the Tulsa Police Department just released, the moments before Crutcher’s death are shown through a few different dashboard cameras. As four officers surround him, he complies with their request to raise his hands. However, instead of coming towards the officers, Crutcher wanders towards his vehicle. The four officers go to approach him, and in the disturbing footage, you can hear them discussing Crutcher over radio. One officer says “he isn’t following commands,” and another responds “it’s time for a taser, I think.” Another officer concurs “I’m kind of thinking that’s about to happen. That looks like a bad dude.”
All four of the officer surround Crutcher, blocking him from view of any cameras. In the brief seconds that he is hidden from view, Crutcher was somehow shot. It was later revealed that the officer who shot Crutcher was Betty Shelby, who has had temporary restraining orders put on her and two complaints of excessive force put on her in the past. Shelby claimed that she saw Crutcher reaching into the vehicle and feared that he would pull out a weapon.
However, examinations of the video do not seem to show that the vehicle’s window was open, and later investigations of the crime scene showed that no weapons were found anywhere in the vehicle. Blood was found on the outside of the car window, implying that it was closed when Crutcher was shot. PCP was found in the car, which may be responsible for Crutcher’s inability to follow police instructions. However, an attorney involved in the case says that Crutcher’s death “is a textbook case of how not to handle someone in that situation.” The video does seem to show that Crutcher was not behaving in a threatening manner, regardless of whether he was or was not using drugs.
In the wake of the shooting, the Tulsa police has worked hard to keep the public informed and be open about the event. All officers involved have been put on paid administrative leave, and both the United States Department of Justice and the Oklahoma state authorities have launched independent investigations into the shooting. The devastated family of Crutcher is working hard to ensure that those involved are held responsible. Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany, said at a press conference, “You all want to know who that big bad dude was? That big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father. That big bad dude was a son.”