When They Shot Terence Crutcher, This Time I Watched
Now Terence Crutcher is dead.
I didn’t know Terence. The millions of people who now know his name didn’t know Terence.
Terence is the 19th person to be killed by a police officer in Oklahoma this year, reports say, and the 825th in the country.
On his way home from Tulsa Community College classes Sept. 16, his vehicle stalled, according to his family. Some reports say Tulsa Police Department officers were responding to an abandoned car in the middle of the road. Others say they were responding to an unrelated call when his SUV was spotted. Maybe that detail will matter in court. Today it doesn’t matter.
What matters right now is what we can see—two angles of video showing Terence Crutcher walking with his hands in the air—clearly visible. It is highly unlikely that Officer Betty Jo Shelby, who shot an unarmed Terence, could not see his hands, as she is heard saying on one of the videos. In fact, another officer, who is recording from his helicopter, is heard saying, “He has his hands up there for her now.” Moments later Terence is shocked with a Taser gun and within seconds fatally shot by Shelby.
I watched the videos of Terence Crutcher’s last minutes several times. I can’t explain why. I didn’t watch New Yorker Eric Garner’s video-recorded death. I couldn’t. I didn’t watch 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s, as he played in a Cleveland park with a toy gun. I wouldn’t. And I didn’t watch Alton Sterling’s of Baton Rouge.
I watched Terence fall to the ground, motionless as blood soaked his white T-shirt.
Then yesterday, Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, was killed by a police officer, the 840th in the country. Right now, there’s a state of emergency as people protest in the streets. An officer has been wounded. A protester killed.
Every time one of these stories comes out, I see my son’s face.
I’m not going to beg for us to all get along. That’s unreasonable. Even people within the same cultural groups don’t always get along. What I do want us to do—all of us—is to see the dual justice system—if we should call it that—in this country. That an overwhelming number of African American people—men and women—are unjustly targeted, unjustly incarcerated, and unjustly killed by police officers.
I really want to say something insightful. I really do. I want to say something that is going to penetrate the collective consciousness. But there are no words. There’s just a vision. Of my 19-year-old son. Every time one of these stories comes out, I see my son’s face.
He was 15 years old when Trayvon Martin was killed. We’d just moved to a Detroit suburb. He liked to go out for a run in the evening. It became dark early as the winter months approached. I was always afraid that something would happen if someone saw him as “suspicious.” He’s now at a predominantly white institution in Pittsburgh. I try not to be afraid. But I am.
I know I raised my son to be respectful of all humans. That if he were ever stopped by police to be respectful, even if they’re not. But these videos have proved to me that his respect, cooperation, and compliance may not save his life. And so I worry. I don’t believe there’s anything he could do that would guarantee his safety if encountered by police officers. Nothing.
That’s a hard thing for a mother. But it should be a hard thing for everyone.
Responding to the numerous lynchings of African Americans during her time, newspaper editor and suffragist Ida B. Wells said: “There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice, if we only know how to find it.”
I invite you to close your eyes, and imagine that Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, all the dead ones killed by police, are your own sons and daughters. Now sit with that. And when you open your eyes, move in the direction of a remedy.
Zenobia Jeffries Warfield is the former executive editor at YES!, where she directed editorial coverage for YES! Magazine, YES! Media’s editorial partnerships, and served as chair of the YES! Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. A Detroit native, Zenobia is an award-winning journalist who joined YES! in 2016 to build and grow YES!’s racial justice beat, and continues to write columns on racial justice. In addition to writing and editing, she has produced, directed, and edited a variety of short documentaries spotlighting community movements to international democracy. Zenobia earned a BA in Mass Communication from Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan, and an MA in Communication with an emphasis in media studies from Wayne State University in Detroit. Zenobia has also taught the college course “The Effects of Media on Social Justice,” as an adjunct professor in Detroit. Zenobia is a member of NABJ, SABJ, SPJ, and the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She lives in Seattle, and speaks English and AAVE.