It’s probably fair to say that deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police and summarily brought to us by modern technology have reached a place of normalcy. Of course there are those that we never hear of, but there are those we see often. The most recent example is the police-involved shooting of Terence Crutcher, 40, who was fatally wounded Sept. 16 while he was near his stalled vehicle.
A dashcam video released by the Tulsa Police Department shows Crutcher with his hands up as police approach him. He lowers his hands and places them on the vehicle, apparently assuming an arrest position. But when they get close he falls to the ground, and someone can be heard saying “shots fired.” Crutcher died later at a hospital. Ofc. Betty Shelby, who fired the fatal shot, has been placed on administrative leave.
But it’s important to know everything we can about these cases, so here are five important facts:
1. It is unclear why police fired at Crutcher. Early police briefings contend that Crutcher was not obeying police commands. In fact, a lawyer for Shelby said both she and Ofc. Tyler Turnbough perceived a threat, saying he kept reaching for his pocket. Nothing on the video shows such an action. Shelby discharged her weapon and Turnbough fired a taser at Crutcher. However, police spokesperson Jeanne MacKenzie told reporters that she didn’t know what Crutcher was doing that prompted police to fire at him. Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Crutcher’s family said police were given no reason to shoot him. “When unarmed people of color break down on the side of the road, we’re not treated as citizens needing help. We’re treated as, I guess, criminals — suspects that they fear,” said Crump.
2. No answers have come forward about why Crutcher wasn’t given medical assistance. After he was shot, Crutcher could be viewed lying in the road bleeding for almost two minutes before he was checked out. MacKenzie could not give a definitive answer about why this happened. “I don’t know that we have protocol on how to render aid to people.” Public duty doctrines on assisting a police shooting victim have been debated for years, but in 2011, Peter Keane, dean emeritus of Golden Gate School of Law, commenting to KQED on the Keith Harding case in Bayview, Calif., said: “Once the police are satisfied that there is no danger to them from the person anymore, then they’re under an obligation to provide medical assistance right away.” In that case however, he said the only thing police could do was call paramedics. Paramedics were reportedly called right after the shooting, but no immediate direct aid from police is seen being rendered on the video.
3. Crutcher’s family is now among others calling for the arrest of Shelby. Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany made clear at a press conference that she wants criminal action taken against the officer who fired the fatal shot. “We’re demanding today, immediately, that charges are pressed against this officer that was incompetent, that took my brother’s life.” But groups including the ACLU have accused the Tulsa Police of allowing Crutcher to simply bleed to death after they shot him. “These Tulsa Police Department officers have made it abundantly clear how little regard they have for Tulsa’s communities of color, said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU. In addition, a group called We The People Oklahoma also say Shelby should be charged in Crutcher’s death. “We need accountability, we need transparency and we need it today,” said Marq Lewis, the group’s founder. “Right now, we need for them to arrest Betty Shelby. Right now.”
4. The officer in question has been decorated, but also accused of excessive force. Betty Jo Shelby, 42, joined the Tulsa Police Department in 2011 after working four years for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department, according to department records. She has been awarded four letters of commendation, and an award for meritorious service, according to KOTV. She has also been accused of excessive force twice in her career, but those complaints were determined to be unfounded, the station reported. She has been placed on paid administrative leave as the investigation into the case proceeds. The initial moments of her encounter with Crutcher are not recorded. When she stopped her patrol car, she did not activate the car’s dashcam. The footage seen comes from another patrol vehcle.
5. Crutcher’s death comes months after a sentencing in another police shooting in Tulsa. Robert Bates, a 74-year-old reserve deputy with the Tulsa Sherrif’s Department was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison for the 2015 death of Eric Harris, 44. According to NBC News, Harris was caught on video participating in an illegal gun sale. He ran from deputies, but Bates caught him and tried to restrain him. He yelled “taser, taser!” then fired his weapon. He was then heard saying, “I shot him, I’m sorry.” An investigation later revealed a memo that questioned his qualifications as a deputy. It was also found that Bates was a close personal friend of the sheriff’s and had donated money to the agency.