Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.

Image of protest sign at the BLM rally in Tulsa

I’m sure at least some people who came of age during the 1960s like myself have an almost surreal and incredulous feeling when protesting in the streets against police brutality in 2016. I know I do.

Didn’t we, or shouldn’t we, have this figured out by now? Why does the government-sanctioned violence against black people continue?

I participated Saturday afternoon in a Black Lives Matter march and rally in downtown Tulsa in the aftermath of the police killing of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher last week. Police officials released a dash cam video showing Crutcher, a black man, had his arms up in a surrender gesture as he walked around his car. They also confirmed he was not in possession of a weapon.

The police officer who shot him, Betty Shelby, who is white, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter.

I won’t rehash the facts of the case, which I wrote about earlier here and here. What I want to do in this post is deal with the two larger ideas: (1) The history of and lingering racism in the country, and (2) the white silence that continues to allow its existence within our nation’s major institutions, such as police departments.

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Should Other Officers Face Charges In Crutcher Killing?

(The manslaughter charge against Shelby doesn’t mean much right now in terms of justice. It’s probably only intended to calm things down on the Tulsa streets.—Kurt Hochenauer)

I caution people who want to end social injustice, racism and police brutality in Oklahoma and elsewhere in this country to not immediately think the first-degree manslaughter charge against Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby represents something overly significant in the fight for equality.

The charge, now that attorneys are involved, could quickly degenerate into the same cover-up, the same racist story, glossed over with the same political maneuvering by right-wing, racist extremists here and elsewhere. We’ve seen it happen before in this country.

It’s the latest installment of the American historical story we’ve experienced not just since our so-called “video era” vividly and further exposed the contemporary ugly truth of police brutality but also since the scourge of slavery in this country.

Let it be clear it was metaphorically speaking a government-led lynch mob that killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher (other spellings of his first name include Terrance) in Tulsa on Sept. 16, a mob made up of other police officers and, well, the police chief himself because he’s their leader, and the racists here and throughout the country that want them to get away with it. Now the real cover-up begins. Shelby is the officially accused killer, yes, but the other officers around her and the system that produces misplaced anger against black people contributed as much as she did when she pulled the trigger and killed a father of four.

So Shelby is the scapegoat for now, but it’s possible she will get off with nothing more than second guessing about a terrible choice in her life. Will she go to jail? Not likely. Will she be able to continue to work in law enforcement? That’s really more likely than her going to jail.

I’m not the only one thinking this.

So for anyone living in the bubble of white privilege here in Oklahoma, most of whom are probably not even reading this, here’s how the ‘facts” are emerging. Before I begin, keep in mind whenever an unarmed black man gets killed by white police officers these days in America, which happens on a regular basis, there’s a set of facts presented by officials that conveniently can’t be verified independently by video or any other means.

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I’ll ask all the excruciating questions the so-called “mainstream” corporate media here won’t in the weeks to come: Is Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby, a white woman, and her fellow officer accomplices pretty much ruthless killers for apparently shooting to death an unarmed black man, Terrence Crutcher, after his arms were raised in surrender last week and then letting him die in the middle of the road without giving him medical help?

Or, how about this one: Are Shelby and her fellow officers simply poorly trained and who panicked for no apparent reason or are racist and came out, “pistols firing,” in a place where the lives of black people have been on the line for a long, long time by Tulsa’s numerous bigots and haters? Tulsa’s checkered history of bigotry pretty much defines the epitome of racism here in Oklahoma? It’s a despicable and disgusting history and now Tulsa has become yet another contemporary and depressing symbol of white privilege and police brutality.

How can the Tulsa police officers who milled casually around the downed and completely immobile Crutcher—that’s clear from the video—without giving him medical help for at least a couple of minutes live with themselves now, and how much jail time do they deserve? Life in prison? Maybe 50 to 75 years with a slight chance of parole? Ten years, just like some people convicted of possession of marijuana or methamphetamine here, which destroys their lives forever? A two-day suspension from the force? A letter of reprimand? No punishment? A commendation?

Let me be clear that I’m adamantly against the death penalty, but will our execution-supporting prosecutors in the continued right-wing nightmare of this place of botched lethal injection killings demand it in a potential case against Shelby and other officers who probably let Crutcher die or will they get life in prison without parole? Oh yeah, to be intentionally true and yet depressingly sarcastic at the same time the most probable option will be that Shelby gets off completely and will still be allowed to be on the police force so she can potentially kill or harm people again. We all know that, don’t we? Maybe that's not sarcastic.

Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip, the next supposed offender sentenced to die by lethal injection here, sits on death row, and no one has ever claimed he killed anyone. That's how our crazy legal system works in this country and especially in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has a brutal, cruel culture.

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