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Shot Fired! Let’s Talk about Football Players

Terence Crutcher, an African American man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed September 16, 2016 by Tulsa police. The Tulsa Police Department released two videos of the shooting: One from a police helicopter and the other from a patrol car dashboard camera. Mr. Crutcher’s SUV had stalled in the road while returning home from college. The videos show him walking towards his car with his hands raised. When he reached the car he either leaned against the vehicle or reached inside, at which point he was Tasered by Officer Tyler Turnbough and shot by Officer Betty Shelby.

But let’s talk about football players.

When Officer Shelby arrived on the scene her dashboard camera was not recording. She later reported that Mr. Crutcher was away from his vehicle and was acting erratically, placing his hand in his pocket and not obeying her commands. Based on her drug-recognition training, she concluded that Mr. Crutcher was under the influence of PCP. Officer Shelby reported that Mr. Crutcher reached into his SUV, but others viewing the videos claimed the window was closed.

Later the Tulsa Police told KOKI-TV that a vial of PCP was found in Mr. Crutcher’s SUV. As I write this, the toxicology report has not yet been released. But even if Mr. Crutcher had taken PCP, which has not been established, questions must be asked: Was Mr. Crutcher threatening Officer Shelby and/or other officers, and was shooting him, after he had be Tasered, the proportionate response in the situation? And it must be said, in both videos there is no evidence at all that Mr. Crutcher made any threatening moves toward the police.

Screenshot of Terence Crutcher walking towards his SUV followed by Officer Betty ShelbyWhen the patrol car with a working dashboard camera arrived recording the encounter, Mr. Crutcher was walking away from Officer Shelby who was following him with her revolver drawn. Another officer with a Taser ran into the scene. On the helicopter recording we hear one officer saying, “This guy is still walking and following commands.” A second officer say, “Time for a Taser, I think.” And then a few moments later he said, ”That looks like a bad dude, too...might be on something.” As it turned out, one of the helicopter officers was Officer Shelby’s husband (some reports claiming he was the officer who called Mr. Crutcher a “bad dude” and other that he was not).

But let’s talk about football players.

I watched both recordings. Here is my account of the moment Mr. Crutcher is Tasered and shot:

19:44:16 - Mr. Crutcher can be seen following to the ground.
     44:19 - A woman’s voice shouts “Shot fired!”
     45:50 - Three officers back away from Mr. Crutcher lying on the ground never turning their backs to him.
     46:05 - It appears a police officer is checking Mr. Crutcher for a weapon.
     46:45 - It appears police are checking Mr. Crutcher condition.
     47:56 - It appears an ambulance arrives.
     48:40 - It appears Mr. Crutcher receives medical care.

Much about this is more than disturbing. If Mr. Crutcher was "walking and following commands", as one of the helicopter police stated, why did the other one say "Time for a Taser, I think"? Is Tasering people standard proceedure? And given that Mr. Crutcher was Tasered, why was he also shot almost simultaneously? Mr. Crutcher laid on the ground bleeding and motionless, clearly seen on the helicopter video, for approximately two minutes before anyone approached him. He laid there for approximately four and a half minutes before receiving what appeared to be medical care. Is that time frame normal in such situations?

Mr. Crutcher later died in hospital. He was 40 years old and studying music in college. He had four daughters. No weapon was found on his body or in his vehicle.

But let’s talk about football players.

Watching the video from the patrol car is both disturbing and eerie. The car’s radio was on and broadcasting an interview with a member of a heavy metal band. As you watch a black man walk away from the police with his hands up, be Tasered and shot, lie unmoving in the road next to his car, you listen to the mundane ruminations of an aging rocker. The juxtaposition of tragedy and banality, while at the same time inevitably and necessarily placing this particular and personal tragedy in the context of an ongoing national crisis, is distressing, upsetting, disconcerting, ominous.

But let’s talk about football players.

I’m not a cop and never wanted to be one. I doubt I had the courage. I admire what the police do to keep us safe. To denounce the killing of unarmed black men is not also to condemn all police officers. Admitting that we have a national problem of huge proportions, is not to say we don’t support the police. Both these statements should be obvious, though it seems they are not to many people. Still, it must be said. It is not safe to be a black person in America. As Rev. Traci Blackmon said, “It is impossible to be unarmed when my blackness is the weapon you fear.” 

But let’s talk about football players.

If the police began killing people with red hair at the rate they are killing African Americans, we would have no difficulty identifying the problem, condemning the behavior, and acting to prevent more killings in the future. We would have no difficulty understanding why Red Hair People Lives Matter came into existence. We would sympathize with red hair football players kneeling down during the national anthem. But the police aren’t killing in disproportionate numbers people with red hair, or white people, or left handed people, or whatever people. They are killing the descendants of America’s slaves.

But let’s talk about football players, the flag, the military, and the greatness of America, instead of the reasons the players kneel down in the first place.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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