In Tulsa, Oklahoma, an unarmed black man named Terence Crutcher was tased and fatally shot by police as he walked toward them with his hands up.
Crutcher’s death was caught on camera by a police helicopter that was hovering overhead as well as a cop car dashcam, and the evidence is damning in the extreme.
The encounter began because Crutcher’s car broke down in the middle of the road and he fled to the side of the road, apparently concerned the smoking vehicle might blow up. Someone saw it and called 911, and when police arrived the situation quickly escalated.
Exactly what happened isn’t clear. The officers claim Crutcher refused to obey their order to stay away from his car, but even if that’s true it’s hardly a crime deserving of extrajudicial execution.
None of the footage shows Crutcher endangering officers’ lives. “It was not apparent at any angle from any point that he lunged, came toward, aggressively attacked, or made any sudden movements that would have been considered a threat or life-threatening toward the officer,” notes Tulsa Pastor Rodney Goss.
And then there’s the commentary from the helicopter footage, in which police officers can be heard speculating without any justification that Crutcher “looks like a bad dude” who deserves to be tased and is “probably on something.”
The only thing they could know from that height was the color of his skin. Not his mental state. Not what he was saying. Not why his car broke down. Not what he might have felt was so important to get out of the car in case it did blow.
It’s not hard to see why Crutcher’s family is demanding criminal charges against the officer responsible for his death—or why they believe racial discrimination is a factor in why it happened.
So far, however, no charges have been filed. Instead, the officer who killed Terence Crutcher is home on paid leave.
Meanwhile, in Rensselaer, New York, this week, two police officers were suspended without pay because they killed a woodchuck. These two cops will miss a month’s worth of paychecks for an admittedly grotesque incident in which they chased a woodchuck in a golf cart until it collapsed of exhaustion. Then they ran over it.
Now, these are of course different police departments. The policies and behavior of each are totally separate from the other.
Still, the contrast is telling: Kill a woodchuck and you’ll have your town in uproar, with vehement accusations of “woodchuck homicide” and public condemnation from the head of the city council. You’ll lose a month of income and be locally disgraced.
Kill an unarmed, nonviolent man with his hands up—a man whose only confirmed “crime” is having car trouble—and you’ll get paid time off while his family has to beg for justice.
Something is very wrong with this picture, and anyone of good conscience should be able to see it.
Unfortunately, it isn’t difficult to see why Crutcher’s family is so worried they won’t get justice: Far too often high-profile police killings of black men in America have gone without charges or trial, let alone conviction. Officers who should be public servants function under a systemic lack of accountability even as evidence of racial discrimination and over-policing piles up.
But it is not “anti-cop” to condemn what seems to have happened to Terence Crutcher. It is not “race-baiting” to point out that what happened to this man was almost certainly affected by the color of his skin. And it is not justice to let police officers get away with what certainly looks like homicide simply because they carry a government badge.