Monday, we watched Terence Crutcher die on video tape.
The video depicts yet another scary tale of what it’s like being a black person in America — whether one is armed or not. The video very clearly shows Crutcher, hands raised, being shot and tased by white officers.
Crutcher, like so many black people before him, was following orders from law enforcement. So it’s time to finally admit that complying with the law won’t save us from police officers.
Our lack of compliance isn’t the issue; our blackness is.
We have seen this all before though: black people are told that if we simply follow the law, we would still be alive today. But that wasn’t the case for Crutcher. During the police encounter, Crutcher was shot and killed by Officer Betty Shelby Friday evening.
Shelby’s attorney says she felt threatened. But we’ve all heard that line before.
The helicopter view shows Crutcher holding his hands up and walking towards a car. Within seconds, he was Tasered by Tyler Turnbough, then shot by Officer Shelby. The police, true to form, believed Crutcher to be armed and dangerous but never found a weapon. Officer Shelby is now on paid administrative leave, while Crutcher is dead.
Many people secretly believe that if we just “act right,” then we will be fine; and if we won’t be “fine,” at least black people would be alive. Oftentimes, this acting right, also called respectability politics, is out of survival — part of the reason nearly every black parent gives their black childspace“> “the talk” on how to engage with the police from a young age. Doing what we are told to stay alive is the everyday experience of black people. Sadly, we have realized that these respectability politics haven’t saved a single one of us yet, leaving many of us wondering: who’s next?
Philando Castile, 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor, was killed in front of his child and girlfriend this year. Before reaching for his requested license and registration, Castile informed officers that he had a firearm in his possession and a conceal-and-carry permit in the car.
And he was still killed anyway.
Studies repeatedly show that white police officers’ feelings about black people increase the likelihood that they will shoot black suspects, even if unarmed (despite misguided updates from this past July).
So, unfortunately, people like Castile and now Crutcher aren’t isolated incidences. While the police are now taking time to create their narrative of what happened to Crutcher that night, black people across America already understand. We see the hashtags, we see the cover-ups, and we’re tired of it.
It isn’t as if Oklahoma and its police forces don’t have a history of racism and racial tension. Earlier this year, Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer, was convicted of rape and sex crimes against black women while he patrolled low-income neighborhoods. He was eventually sentenced to 263 years in prison. It’s obvious that police officers see themselves as authority figures and act accordingly to control the lives of black people — and it’s because they usually get away with it.
The fact is that if police officers didn’t want to kill people, they wouldn’t. We know this because extremely dangerous white people live every day. In 2014, Joseph Houseman, 63, was in a 40-minute standoff with police before not being arrested or charged with any crimes as officials indicated he was not “brandishing” a weapon.
Last year, Julia Shields, a 45-year-old white woman, went on a rampage in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she fired numerous shots out of her window at people and cars. As Charles Blow describes, one witness stated that the shooter was “holding a gun out of the window as if it were a cigarette.” Shields was later taken into custody “without incident or injury.” Whiteness saves individual white people, not black people.
Police protect police. Respectability politics won’t save us from that. The ACLU of Connecticut, in fact, recently filed charges against state police for fabricating criminal charges against a protestor. In a recording, one trooper can be heard saying “let’s give him something” while another is saying “gotta cover our ass.” The fear that some black people have against law enforcement is a real one — anti-black laws enforced by anti-black officers is a deadly combination. Crutcher is the latest victim of that.
This is why we know Crutcher’s life could have never been valued. If you listen to the video closely, one officer stated, “That looks like a bad dude too. Could be on something.” Nothing Crutcher did would have changed that perception — not his hands up, not “yes sir” and “no sir,” not being still. Because the onus is on white cops to rid themselves of racism, not on black people to scale-down cops’ discriminatory viewpoints.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He has written for The Atlantic, The Root, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonMitchum to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.