Driving While Black Is Totally Different

I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I watched the dashcam video of Tulsa police officers killing Terence Crutcher on September 16th. I guess I expected to see something a little more suspenseful instead of just a mundane segment of footage of a seemingly non-threatening person being executed for no apparent reason.

In fact, the first time I watched it, I completely missed the shooting because it didn’t seem imminent and I was momentarily distracted. (If you don’t want to watch someone die, don’t watch the following footage).

According to the news reports, he was tasered and shot in quick succession, although it’s impossible to tell from the video. All you see is him drop to the ground. Then you see the police fail to render him any assistance for about three and a half minutes.

I went and found the helicopter cam video to see if I could learn more.

It didn’t help. I saw a man who had his hands on his car who was clearly shot and killed for no apparent reason. I couldn’t even see any reason why he might have been tased.

It certainly doesn’t show Mr. Crutcher reaching into his car as a Tulsa police spokesperson initially said.

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan called the shooting “very difficult to watch” and called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Before the video of the incident was made public on Monday, police spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie told reporters that 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.”

I could talk about Mr. Crutcher here, since he had no weapon and wasn’t doing anything obviously wrong. But that would be a disservice because based on his behavior, he could have been a mass murdering cannibal and it wouldn’t have justified this shooting. We can’t judge police behavior based on the moral character of the people they exterminate. They don’t have the right to act as judge, jury, and executioner, so all that matters is whether they were justified in using violence to protect themselves.

In this case, I can see no justification whatsoever. At the very worst, Mr. Crutcher may not have been responding the way they wanted him to to their verbal commands. But he was not any kind of threat. He made no threatening moves.

The woman who killed him, Officer Betty Shelby, may be incompetent or there may be a worse explanation. But she hopefully won’t get away with the excuse that Mr. Crutcher was acting like a man on PCP.

What’s probably the most disturbing part of this is that he was being treated like a suspect in the first place. His vehicle broke down in the middle of the road. He needed assistance. Yet, he’s there from the first moment of the video with his hands up and a gun drawn on him.

Maybe he was acting strangely. I have no way of knowing how he was behaving before the videos begin, although it appears he was on his way home from the local community college, so I don’t when he was supposed to be doing the PCP.

I just can’t imagine the police treating me this way if my car breaks down and I’m looking for a helping hand. Most likely, they would have helped me get the car on the shoulder and radioed for a tow truck. And if I seemed impaired or something, they would have given me a field sobriety test, not drawn a gun on me.

Back in about 1995, I was in the passenger seat of a car being driven by a black friend of mine when we got pulled over on Route One in New Jersey. I thought I’d helpfully get his insurance information and opened his glovebox. He reacted with furious terror and told me to shut the glovebox and keep my hands in sight.

That was my introduction to the difference between driving while white and black. Even then, I thought he was being a little paranoid.

I don’t think that anymore.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.