Last Friday, the nation was rocked with another fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man, as 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was shot in front of his stalled car in the middle of 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue in Tulsa, OK. He died of the gunshot wound the next day. Graphic footage from both the dashboard camera of a police officer’s patrol car and a helicopter above the scene show Crutcher walking towards his car and away from the officers with his hands in the air. As he approached the driver’s side window, he appeared to lower his hands and reach towards the window, when he was fatally fired upon by one of the officers at the scene (another employed a taser).
Though many of the facts are still forthcoming as the incident is being investigated by federal, state, and local authorities, outrage over the seemingly unjustified slaying has been nearly universal, with thousands across the country using the BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media to demand justice for Crutcher and an end to alleged racism in law enforcement.
In Tulsa, the past week has been marked by protests, demonstrations and vigils in Crutcher’s honor. We The People Oklahoma, a social activism group focused chiefly on ending racial discrimination, held a peaceful rally on Tuesday outside the Tulsa Police Department where speakers implored the several hundred attendees to take action in order to achieve justice. Particular emphasis was placed on community policing and the forming of a police force more representative of the demographics of its constituents.
Speakers also repeatedly called for unity over divisiveness, noting that the problems facing the black community could only be solved with changes to policy and not violence.
Officer Betty Shelby, who fired the fatal shot, was charged with first-degree manslaughter on Thursday and turned herself into authorities the following day. The court filing detailing the charge cites fear as the cause behind her ”unreasonable actions,” a defense reiterated in a statement from Shelby’s attorney, which describes Crutcher as hostile, possibly inebriated and uncooperative with the officers. Shelby was booked and released on $50,000 bond about 20 minutes after turning herself in.
Reaction to the manslaughter charge was mixed. Some, including Crutcher’s family, applauded the “small steps” being taken the rectify the situation while We The People Oklahoma leader Marq Lewis said that “without a shadow of a doubt…the system today has worked for black lives.”
Others characterized the DA’s decision as trivial pacification. Pastor Mareo Johnson, who organized a memorial service for Crutcher earlier in the week, said that he and others would not be happy until Shelby is charged with first-degree murder. Protester Tammy Liggins agreed, saying that the manslaughter charge was like “throwing mud in our faces.”
Protests and demonstrations are expected to continue in the coming days as more information is revealed through the police and justice department investigations. Funeral services for Crutcher occurred on Saturday, September 24, at Antioch Baptist Church.