Living in Fear

Raeesa Ashique - 2B Electrical
Posted on: September 25, 2016

Disclaimer: I understand that, as a Muslim Canadian who very rarely experiences discrimination, I have no right to be writing a Black Lives Matter article, and will not pretend that I can possibly understand what these people are going through.

In the last two weeks, in cases that sadly feel like déjà vu, two black men have been killed by police officers.

Terence Crutcher was fatally shot on Friday, September 16, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The encounter was recorded on two police cameras—one in a police car, and the other in a helicopter. He was a 40-year-old father of four.

Officer Betty Shelby came across the SUV stalled in the middle of the road while responding to an unrelated call. She stopped and told Crutcher to stop, but he continued walking towards his car, hands in the air.

Shelby said that Crutcher was unresponsive, and then she opened fire after he reached through the car window. His family argued that this was impossible, since the window was rolled up. There was also a photo showing blood on the window, indicating that it must have been closed. The footage shows Crutcher with his hands in the air, and he then puts them on the side of the car.

Shelby is a white officer who, as a drug recognition expert, believed that Crutcher was under the influence of the synthetic drug PCP. Tulsa police later found a vial of PCP in the car. On that matter, the Crutcher family lawyer Benjamin Crump commented, “Let us not be thrown a red herring and to say because something was found in the car that is justification to shoot him.” There was no gun found on his body or in the vehicle.

Officer Shelby was convicted of first-degree manslaughter on Thursday and faces four years in prison. In the court documents, prosecutors wrote that her “fear resulted in her unreasonable actions”, and she became “emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.” She also had a Taser on her, but pulled out her gun anyway.

On the conviction Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany says, “While we are pleased to learn the officer who senselessly killed my beloved twin brother will face criminal charges for her reckless act, we understand nothing will bring him back.”

Tulsa has a history of racial confrontations. A white mob killed 150-300 people, mostly black, in the 1921 riot which is considered to be among the worst race riots in American history. Reverend Marlin Lavanhar commented that “There’s still an element of generational trauma in the culture here.” This is believed to be a reason behind why Tulsa did not resort to violence in the aftermath of this killing.

The police also made a commendable move in the spirit of transparency: they showed the police footage to Crutcher’s family, and then to over 50 influential black leaders, pastors, and officials, before releasing it to the public. These community leaders also played a key role following the tragedy, as they did not feel protesting was the appropriate course of action. Whatever the reason, this city reacted very differently compared to another American city a couple days later.

Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot on Tuesday, September 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The encounter was recorded by his wife, Rakeyia Scott, and by police cameras. He was a 43-year-old father of seven.

Scott was sitting in his parked car outside their apartment, waiting for one of his children to come home from school, when officers arrived on an unrelated call. Ms. Scott came down to give him a phone charger, the lawyers said, when she saw the cops on the scene and began recording on her cell phone. She released the video to The New York Times on Friday.

In the video, she is heard saying “Don’t shoot him. He has no weapon”, and an officer yelling “Drop the gun.” She continues to plead with the officers not to shoot, explaining that her husband has a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident last year, and that he just took his medicine. She also pleads with her husband to get out of the car, and says “don’t do it”, which is ambiguous.

He gets out of the car, but it is not clear from either Ms. Scott’s footage or police footage what, if anything, was in his hands. The officers claim he held a gun, but his family and friends say it was a book. Regardless, Scott was shot fifty seconds into the video, followed by Ms. Scott’s hysterical repeated swears and shouts of, “He better not be dead.”

Scott’s death sparked protests throughout the city for the next several days, continuing into the weekend. Although the hundreds of protestors were largely peaceful, there were cases of vandalism and clashes with the police. The National Guard was brought in on Thursday to establish peace and a curfew imposed from midnight to 6 AM. Among the protestors’ signs were some reading “Stop police brutality”, and others with the hashtag #AMINEXT.

As well as justice, protestors were calling for the police to release the footage of the incident, which they finally did on Saturday. Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney admits the footage contains “no definitive visual evidence that [Scott] had a gun and pointed it at officers”, although they are convinced that this was the case. They also released photos of a handgun and marijuana, which they say Scott was in possession of.

Officer Brentley Vinson, the black officer who shot Scott, is on administrative leave as the incident is investigated.

According to The New York Times, police officers kill about 1000 people each year. Only 77 have been charged with manslaughter or murder since 2005, which are frightening statistics as cases like this become more and more common.

This look into the minds of a group of children can help provide some perspective on the tragic situation in many of these communities: the students at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, where Crutcher’s daughter is a student, participated in a group discussion following the shooting led by teacher Rebecca Lee. She documented the discussion in a Facebook post with over 150,000 shares. The younger children asked difficult questions: “Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? Why does [student] have to live life without a father? What will she do at father daughter dances?” As did the older students: “ ‘What made him a ‘bad dude?’’ a boy asks. ‘What is his height? His size … The colour of his skin?’” Lee also writes “I share this story, because Mr. Crutcher’s death does not just affect the students at my school. I share this story, because we are creating an identity crisis in all of our black and brown students. (Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human?)”

Here’s to hoping that these children can grow up safely and never have to live in fear.