What can I say?
White police officer Betty Shelby killed Black Terence Crutcher while his hands were raised in the air or being returned to a raised position after attempting to retrieve something (we don’t know what, but it was probably ID) from his car. He had raised his hands and kept them raised while walking to the car to get whatever it was that Crutcher felt necessary. He was exhibiting all the typical signs of submission, and though the cops say he disobeyed orders, cops frequently give contradictory orders (“Hands up! Show us your ID!”) especially when, as here, more than one cop is one the scene at the same time. And, of course, even if Crutcher were to disobey a legal officer given by a cop with the best of intentions and training, and even if Crutcher were to disobey for the most venal of motives, the penalty for disobeying a legal order given my a law enforcement officer is, if I understand the law correctly, something less than the death penalty both under state law and under Tulsa’s city ordinances. Of course, it is possible that I’m simply misunderstanding the specific legal meaning of the phrases “Failure to comply will constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed Two Hundred Fifty Dollars ($250.00).” and “shall be punished by a fine of not more than Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00)”. Tulsa is in an entirely different country from me after all.
You know that this shooting was unjustified because her own Tulsa police department cooperated in her prosecution. But, as ever, it is virtually impossible to convict a cop for shooting anyone. Nonetheless, there is a different tone in Tulsa just now than in many other cities where shootings of unarmed Black men or mentally ill men have shocked communities. Take Tulsa chief Chuck Jordan’s statement on the verdict and the community protests, as reported by Reuters:
“We are prepared for anything but we are expecting exactly what we got last night – peaceful protests,” Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan told a news conference.
This relative restraint is what passes for admirable in the US, and as cynical as I can be sometimes, I could feel myself tearing up at the thought a cop would make such a bland statement. It’s not as if Jordan even praised the protestors, though my bias led me to think he had done so at first reading. And yet, the “go back to your houses, things are too volatile right now” language that is typical of police officials in similar circumstances is designed to sound relatively neutral while framing the issue such that any people who remain on the streets (whether protesting or just trying to go to the store for some bread) are violating the requests of the police and therefore being deliberately provocative and therefore the people on the streets are the problem and they deserve anything they get. Those statements are so self-serving, and yet so naively reported as if the cops involved were interested in peace rather than in justifying future aggression that I’m clearly primed to respond well to any cop who doesn’t sound like their statements are mere set-ups for escaping future efforts at accountability.
In fact, I almost didn’t categorize this in “This is what fascist policing looks like” because part of fascist policing is the lack of consequences and in this case Shelby was actually prosecuted and her chief supported a number of criticisms, including publicly agreeing that she had “escalated” the situation, a criticism brought by prosecutors. Police escalation is quite common, but rarely criticized, much less punished. The fact that Tulsa chief Chuck Jordan has agreed that it occurred in this case and that it was a problem is, believe it or not, a vast step up from the defensiveness and denial of any responsibility that typifies police officials’ typical responses to killings of unarmed civilians. Not all juries convict, even when prosecutors make a good faith effort to bring the strongest legal case possible. Being prosecuted and being off the job for months is a consequence, albeit a terribly insufficient one for killing a human being. So I was tempted to place this news in a different category. I actually had to ask myself the question of whether or not this belonged with other instances where police departments acted with fascist aggression and above-the-law impunity.
Sadly, I then read that Shelby is being brought back on the job. Whether this is required by a union contract or not (and I don’t know whether it is), it is abominable. If officials sign a contract requiring wrong doers be rehired/not fired if a jury fails to convict, that is a stupid and condemnable choice: not guilty is not the same as innocent and the level of proof required for an employer to fire an employee is not the same as the level of proof required for a government to lock someone up. If officials have it in their discretion to bring Shelby back or not, then bringing back this specific officer in these specific circumstances is an abominable decision.
KFOR Tulsa’s article sums up much of the good and the bad in this case. Peers defended Shelby and tried to lie, dissemble, and cover up the exact facts. It took a video of Crutcher’s hands in the air immediately before being shot before prosecutors took the case seriously. According to KFOR Shelby has asserted – and the police force has not denied – “that her police training taught her that ‘if a suspect reaches their hands inside of a car, don’t let them pull them out,’ she testified.”
Then there’s this from trial testimony:
“Is Terence Crutcher’s death his fault?” Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray asked.
“Yes,” Shelby replied.
At a local level, there are differences, I believe, between fascist policing and a corrupt police force. The Mayor spoke well after the verdict:
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said the verdict does not change the fact that more work needs to be done to address racial disparities.
“After considering days of testimony and undergoing its own deliberation, the jury has spoken. I appreciate the jurors’ service to our community and respect their verdict,” Bynum said.
“But this verdict does not alter the course on which we are adamantly set,” he said. “It does not change our recognition of the racial disparities that have afflicted Tulsa historically. It does not change our work to institute community policing measures that empower citizens to work side by side with police officers.”
As did a police union official:
Gerard Lindsey, chairman of Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police, said there were no winners following the verdict.
“There’s still a family that has dealt with a tragedy here, the Crutchers, and we still extend our deepest sympathies to them,” he said.
But at bottom, the white officer who killed a Black man testified that Crutcher was at fault and that her training compels her to kill any person who reaches into a vehicle during a traffic stop or other investigation. Her training did, in fact, teach some version of that (the details are in dispute). Terence Crutcher is, in fact, dead of bullet wounds inflicted by Shelby. And this is the difference between the corruption of some of Shelby’s peers and the nature of a truly fascist police force, however much that force might smile in front of a camera: For a fascist police force, civilians are enemies and the rules are created in order to permit officers from escaping any consequence for treating civilians as enemies. In a merely corrupt police force, officers may or may not believe civilians are enemies (though they, like many police officers, tend to believe this far too frequently) but they bend and break rules in order to escape accountability for any reason, period.
For all the kind words being expressed in Tulsa just now, it is fascist policing when officers are trained to kill civilians for doing perfectly legal acts (reaching into a car) that are typically unassociated with any threat but that may, rarely, be part of a series of actions that subsequently leads to a threat materializing. And that is before we reach the racism of white men confidently open-carrying loaded firearms while unarmed Black men fear reaching for a wallet even when the police have actually asked them for ID.
I’ll leave you with the words of Terence Crutcher’s family, again, as reported by KFOR:
“This is definitely a tough pill to swallow,” his sister, Tiffany Crutcher, said. “Terence’s hands were up. Terence was not an imminent threat. Terence did not attack her. Terence didn’t charge at her. Terence was not the aggressor. ”
Their father, Joseph Crutcher, said the verdict was unjust. “Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder,” he said. “I have four grandchildren that are at home now, that have lost their daddy.”
According to the Tulsa World, Tiffany Crutcher said her brother was murdered and the Tulsa Police Department tried to cover it up.
“Betty Shelby murdered my brother, and after she murdered my brother all of the officers involved with the Tulsa Police Department covered for her,” she said. “What I got out of this case was that a coverup was exposed.”
She also criticized police for not immediately providing care after Terence Crutcher was shot.
“I’m going to make sure that I don’t rest until we get reforms for this police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we change the culture of this corrupt police department,” Tiffany Crutcher said, according to the Tulsa World.