It’s open season on Black bodies for police officers.
At least that’s how this week’s heavily reported shootings of Black men by law enforcement makes it seem. On September 16, Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot dead in Tulsa. Four days later, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was killed by police in Charlotte.
Their transgressions? Being Black in public.
The sequence of events when Black people are shot by police play like episodes of Law and Order: plentiful, living on in syndication and seemingly available 24-hours a day somewhere in the United States.
In the first case, Crutcher’s car stalled in the center of a highway when his life fatally intersected with Tulsa police officer. Betty Shelby’s, who inexplicably determined he was a threat. Shelby’s encounter with Crutcher was initially not captured on dash cam footage because she never turned it on. Her attorney told the Tulsa World that Shelby believed Crutcher was under the influence of PCP. Police say a vial of the drug was found in Crutcher’s vehicle.
The video evidence tells a much different story. Crutcher was shot in the back, with his hands in the air. The video also shows officers opting not to render any first aid as Crutcher lay in the street dying. An unidentified officer aboard a helicopter hovering over the incident said Crutcher “looks like a bad dude, too.” How one can determine that from the sky is anyone’s guess.
In the second case, Scott, who was described by his family as disabled, was shot by Charlotte police while reading a book in his car, waiting on his son to get out of school. Police claim Scott “posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject.”
Witnesses say Scott was unarmed, but at a press conference, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said a gun was recovered after the incident that led to Scott’s shooting. Putney also said it is unclear whether Scott pointed the gun at officers. The officer involved, Brentley Vinson was not wearing a body camera at the time.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The introduction of body and dash cameras were supposed to give the public, and presumably law enforcement, a method to hold rogue officers accountable when deaths like Crutcher’s and Scott’s occur. Instead, we’ve been treated to the millennium version of American lynching photography. We see the police standing near bleeding bodies, eerily reminiscent of scenes from the 1900s. And while these police shootings aren’t the in person public spectacles they used to be, social media and websites provide a far larger audience than anything white-hooded terrorists could’ve imagined 50 or 100 years ago.
Without a doubt, Black people in America are resilient. We have persevered through unspeakable and abominable horrors. We were stripped of our humanity upon arrival and have been fighting for centuries to get it back. And in spite of our strides, going from the plantation outhouse to the White House, we mistakenly believe that we can end police violence.
The reality is that we cannot.
We teach our children that they can do and be and achieve anything they set their minds to. That if they work hard enough, go to the right schools and make the right moves, that they can be great. But as we know, jobs, educational pedigrees, hard work or the finest of garments do not stop bullets, nor do they alter our complexion in a society made up of law enforcement officers who receive paid vacation for taking our lives.
We cannot end police violence because we are not responsible for police violence. Terence Crutcher reminds us of that. Keith Lamont Scott reminds us of that.
The police and the legal system, and only the police and legal system, are responsible for ending police violence towards Black people. Or at the very least, checking police violence when it occurs, up to and including termination of officers and filing charges where appropriate.
“Stop killing us” has been a request at times, a demand at others. But as long as there is no deterrent for laying down Black bodies, as long as there is no internal check and balance in police departments, “stop killing us” will be a mere suggestion.
In a just world, this conversation wouldn’t be necessary. In a just world, it wouldn’t be us against them. In a just world, a badge wouldn’t automatically mean good and Black wouldn’t automatically mean bad. In the real world, it is just us trying to survive routine encounters with them.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is up to the police to hold their co-workers and partners accountable for brutality. It becomes incredibly difficult for a skeptical populace to take seriously the claim that police take the pursuit of justice seriously when the wagons circle around an officer caught lying about a fatal encounter.
The days of the good cop defense against indicting an entire system of policing are over. Yes, there are good cops, but the presence of good cops —and good cops who are Black — are not enough to dismantle institutional racism. And the presence of good cops who risk their lives every day mean nothing if they won’t risk their badges to protect us from the bad ones.
Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are just the latest names. Sadly, they likely won’t be the final reminders. Until the “good cops” step up and put an end to police violence, we have no reason to trust the police.
AJ Springer is a writer, questioner of everything and lover of good conversation. Follow him on Twitter @JustAnt1914