Police shooting of Terence Crutcher prompts federal investigation
The video of Crutcher’s death released Monday was quickly shared around social media. In a press conference that day, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan called it “very difficult to watch,” and “disturbing.”
Jordan also announced that the Department of Justice would conduct an impartial probe into the shooting, which was confirmed on Tuesday.
“The Justice Department is committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers, and will devote whatever resources necessary to ensure that all allegations of civil-rights violations are fully and completely investigated,” US Attorney Danny Williams, Sr. told the Wall Street Journal.
Betty Shelby, the officer who opened fire on Crutcher, claimed that Crutcher ignored commands and did not respond to questions. Her attorney, Scott Wood, explained that Shelby had completed drug-recognition expert training and believed that Crutcher was on PCP, Tulsa World reported.
Speaking for Shelby, Woods claimed that, despite the video, what defined the encounter was what took place two minutes before the footage began. Woods said Crutcher “had his head tilted down but eyes on and fixated on her,” and mumbled when asked if the SUV belonged to him.
Shelby was the first to approach Crutcher’s vehicle, which had stalled in the middle of the road. According to Woods, Shelby was concerned, because Crutcher kept reaching toward his pocket much like someone carrying a weapon.
“He never makes any response to her,” Wood said.
Woods claimed that Shelby had checked the driver’s side of the vehicle for weapons, but did not have the chance to check the passenger side before Crutcher approached it.
“He has his hands up and is facing the car and looks at Shelby, and his left hand goes through the car window, and that’s when she fired her shot,” Woods said.
She claims that she discharged her weapon at the same time a backup officer deployed his Taser, “because both officers perceived the same threat,” Woods said.
The day after Woods gave Shelby’s statements, the Oklahoma Police Department claimed to have found PCP in the vehicle, according to the Tulsa World.
In Monday’s press conference, Chief Jordan confirmed that there were no weapons in the vehicle but made no mention of drugs. There has not been any confirmation of whether or not Crutcher had any in his system at the time of his death.
The Crutchers’ family attorney, Benjamin Crump, told Tulsa World, “Let us not be thrown a red herring and to say because something was found in the car that is justification to shoot him.”
Shelby’s husband, David Shelby, is also a police officer and was in the helicopter recording the incident, Tulsa World reported. He was not assigned to a call when he was monitoring the situation. Sgt. Shane Tuell claims the overlap between the marital partners was “happenstance.”
Radio chatter was also recorded and included one officer saying that Crutcher “Looks like a bad dude, too,” and claimed he “Could be on something.”
Now that the Tulsa Police Department is under a microscope, so too is Tulsa’s history, which includes one of the worst race riots in US history.
On May 30, 1921, a 19-year-old shoeshine named Dick Rowland needed to use the bathroom. His employer only provided washrooms for white citizens, so Rowland had to use the bathroom at the top of the nearby Drexel Building. Rowland took the elevator where he ran into the operator, a white 17-year-old by the name of Sarah Page.
Page and Rowland were at the very least friendly, some say lovers, according to Raw Story. But on this day, something startled Page enough for her to scream. Many speculate that Rowland tripped coming into the elevator, and he grabbed her arm.
Regardless of what happened, a white clerk heard Page and saw Rowland, then declared that Rowland had tried to rape Page. Page never made this claim, nor did she ever confirm it.
The next day, Rowland was in jail while a lynch mob convened in front of the Tulsa courthouse to demand he be turned over to them. When the sheriff refused, the mob turned its attention to the Tulsa neighborhood known as Greenwood.
Greenwood had earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” because of the dozens of black-owned businesses that were thriving from the oil boom. Greenwood was home to two black-owned newspapers, doctors, lawyers and many other businesses that were often off limits to black citizens due to segregation.
The white mob invaded Greenwood and burned every building, totaling 1,256 structures, destroying 35 blocks and killing 300 people. Black citizens who attempted to flee were arrested by the Oklahoma National Guard, then held until white citizens could come forward and vouch for black citizens individually.
Survivor Olivia Hooker, now 99, said the riot “really destroyed my faith in humanity,” according to Al-Jazeera. “And it took a good long while for me to get over it.”
No one was ever held legally accountable. No one received any financial restitution for their destroyed homes. No one received reparations, despite the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921’s recommendation in 2001.
“Reparations: It happened. There was murder, false imprisonment, forced labor, a cover-up, and local precedence for restitution. While the official damage was estimated at $1.5 million, the black community filed more than $4 million in claims. All were denied,” the report commissioned by Oklahoma government officials read.
That same report called Tulsa’s race relations “ceremonial — liken to a bad marriage, with spouses living in the same quarters but housed in different rooms, each escaping one another by perpetuating a separateness of silence.”
This brings us back to Terence Crutcher. While this history lesson is not to say that Tulsa is a hotbed of racism, it is rather to say that what happened to Crutcher did not occur in a vacuum. Instead, the 2001 report says it best: “The mob torched the soul of the city, an evil from which neither whites nor blacks have fully recovered.”