Tragedy in Tulsa…This Time!

It’s time to Break It Down!

This past Friday evening the paths of a Tulsa police officer and an unarmed black man crossed. A short time later, Terence Crutcher was transformed.   He was no longer a stalled motorist seeking help on a Friday night in Oklahoma. No, he was the latest member of one of the most ill fated clubs of all, an unarmed black man, killed by a police officer.

The result was another absolutely harrowing, totally inconsolable and irreparable, yet all too familiar consequence. Most of us have had life altering experiences. Mr. Crutcher, abruptly and I’m fairly certain, unexpectedly, faced the ultimate, a life-ending encounter. Experiences such as his are at the crux of one of our most volatile contemporary national conversations. Similar experiences spawned the Black Lives Matter Movement (#BLM), which in turn served as a catalyst for the Blue Lives Matter Countermovement, which led, indirectly, to the Colin Kaepernick inspired “Not standing for the National Anthem” protests.

This story, like each of those that preceded it, has it’s own specific details. Moreover, every person’s life is indubitably unique and demands its particular solemnity. Yet, it must be said, this tale is merely the next sequence in a continuing saga; a sorrowfully pathetic narrative that we should all find offensive.

So what happened to Terence? Here’s what we know. Allow me to fast forward and begin with the end. A police officer feared for her life. That most often really is the end of the story, an officer in mortal fear. While we do not yet know what the final determination will be, as it relates to this particular installment, we do know that magic phrase is very often a get out/stay out of jail card on par with Dorothy clicking her heels three times and riffing “No place like home, no place like home, no place like home.”

I will not regale you with all the details; here are a few of the pertinent ones as reported by ABC News:

  1. Police received a call regarding a stalled vehicle.
  2. The responding officers did not know whether the driver was armed.
  3. Crutcher’s most recent court records were for traffic violations over 10 years ago.
  4. Since 2007, Tulsa’s officers have been involved in 24 fatal shootings (according to the newspaper Tulsa World).
  5. Officer Betty Shelby, whom police say shot Crutcher, was one of several officers on the scene with guns drawn.
  6. Scott Wood, Officer Shelby’s attorney, said the officer “believed” Crutcher was armed when she shot him.
  7. Officer Shelby’s husband, also a Tulsa police officer, was above the scene in a (police) helicopter, a fact police deemed “a happenstance.
  8. Chief Chuck Jordan called the shooting “very difficult to watch” and has sought an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
  9. Police spokesperson Jeannie Mackenzie told reporters Mr. Crutcher “refused to follow commands given by the officers.” She added, “They continued to talk to him. He continued not to listen and follow any commands. As they got closer to the vehicle, he reached inside the vehicle and at that time there was a Taser deployment, and a short time later there was one shot fired.”
  10. Officer Tyler Turnbough, also white, used a stun gun on Mr. Crutcher. It is unclear why one officer drew a stun gun while another drew a handgun against an unarmed man. It also remains unexplained why Mr. Crutcher was considered a threat to multiple armed officers.

Video and audio documentation related to the events leading to Mr. Crutcher’s death were released Monday. Prior to releasing that information, Chief Jordan announced that Mr. Crutcher had no weapon, neither on his person, nor in his vehicle.

The best of the video, taken from a helicopter above the scene, shows Mr. Crutcher walking toward his vehicle with his hands in the air. When he reached the vehicle, he placed his hands on top of his SUV. Dashcam video also appears to corroborate his hands were on top of the SUV. Based on the audio recording, a voice from the helicopter says, “Time for a Taser.”

Another voice can be heard saying, “That looks like a bad dude too. Probably on something.”

The video does not appear to show what might have validated those perceptions. I will decline to speculate whether any of those voices, or the views that accompanied them, came from Officer Shelby’s husband, who as mentioned earlier, was in the helicopter.

What the video does show is that there were three officers standing in a line behind Crutcher, and at least one more standing several feet behind them. As the tape continues to roll, Mr. Crutcher can be seen falling to the pavement. As blood pooled around his body, approximately two minutes appear to pass prior to anyone checked on him.

Danny Williams, a U.S. Attorney indicates there will be a Department of Justice civil rights investigation of the shooting, separate and apart from that conducted by local authorities. He noted:

“The Justice Department is committed to investigating allegations of force by law enforcement officers and will devote whatever resources are necessary to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated.”

Looked at from a variety of angles, and from different cameras, of course, the video appears to show the same disturbing fact pattern. “Yet another” unarmed black man walks down a road, this time in Tulsa, with his hands in the air. Police follow behind him closely until he reaches his vehicle, where he stands momentarily. Then, he falls to the ground after one of the officers pulls the trigger.

As for Attorney Wood’s assertion that Officer Shelby feared Mr. Crutcher was reaching for a gun inside the car, Benjamin Crump, a member of the Crutcher family’s legal team, observed at a news conference that, “the vehicle window was rolled up…making it highly unlikely he was reaching into the vehicle.”

This story will continue to unfold for some time. The details vary from incident to incident, for sure, but the theme is worth noting, and repeating.  I am compelled to remind all who read this post of what strikes me as a super vivid irony.  Monday Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspected of several terrorist bombings in New York and New Jersey over the weekend, was captured alive and arrested…after a shootout with authorities, while Friday night, Terence Crutcher, unarmed, was killed by the officers he encountered. Today we observe, in respectful repose, “Tragedy in Tulsa…This Time!” It’s the “this time” that serves as a not subtle at all reminder, #BLM!

I’m done; holla back!

P.S. While I was writing this post, a police shooting and immediate fallout were unfolding here in my own City, CLT. It was tempting to switch horses in midstream and write a hometown story. However, the Tulsa story was further developed, and more facts were immediately available. I will say, pray for Charlotte, and especially the family of the deceased. You can check for the still unfolding details here:

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