Editorial

Who’s On Trial, Terence Crutcher or Betty Shelby? 

Illustration of Terence Crutcher by Christopher Rayson

Opinion | by Nehemiah Frank

The last time I checked news headlines, the defendant’s name was Officer Betty Shelby, and Officer Shelby was on trial for first-degree manslaughter.

However, watching her trial unfold on social media, through local news stations, and in the courtroom, one could easily be confused in regards to who the defendant actually is. 

Needless-to-say, the verifiable truth remains the same. Officer Betty Jo Shelby is on trial for manslaughter. Her victim, Terence Crutcher who was the son of a preacher, the brother of a sister who is a doctor, the father of four beautiful children, and the son of a strong and virtuous black woman. Now, Crutcher’s family tears flow endlessly as the river Nile, their 5ft. 9in. gentle giant’s life was taken from them on a hot Friday evening in the month of September in 2016. 

In last week’s testimonies, the attorney of Betty Shelby, Shannon McMurray, did everything in her power to demonize the character of Terence Crutcher. Leading witnesses to state that Terence could have used his vehicle as a deadly weapon to run over Officer Shelby and that he could have opened his trunk and pulled out a small screwdriver with the malicious calculative intent of stabbing Officer Shelby. Attorney McMurry degraded the character of this innocent man, who was unarmed, trying to get his life back on track, and the only intent he carried in his conscience was getting home safely to his family.

Terence had been looking for his college music class, at Tulsa Community College, less than 30 minutes before his death and earlier that day had just finished making payments to a mechanic for his SUV which had been in the shop since January of 2016.

McMurry negatively dehumanized a man she had never met, simply, for a paycheck.

Attorney McMurray called witnesses who described Terence as zombie-like and un-human. These types of bywords have hyper-stigmatized and demonized people of the African-diaspora for centuries and are the causation for the pathological, negative-black prospectives that lead to the demise of black people on the other end of bullets in police shootings.

Encounters like that of Officer Betty Shelby, a white woman living in Bixby, Okla. whereby the town’s black population is less than 1.7% will presumably believe they are in a dangerous situation when coming in contact with any black man.

They arrive on the scene with formed generalizations and preconceived notions of black people based on what they see and hear from their white peers. In homogenous communities in America, white people too often deem black lives as criminal and predatorial based on what they see and hear on television and from living in non-diverse communities; therefore, they become the products of the social-cultural stimuli they receive in their versions of normalized environments. For example, Betty Shelby’s reactions led to the death of Terence Crutcher because she wasn’t raised nor exposed enough to people of different cultural backgrounds. Hence, Shelby thought Terence Crutcher was acting unusual in contrast to what she thought an average person from her perspective should have behaved. 

Did it not occur to Shelby that Terence was reaching for his wallet, which was on the dashboard if he even reached into the vehicle at all? Did any of the officers not think that perhaps the combination of police sirens, a helicopter overhead, loud music from Terence’s SUV, and the fact that they were outside possibly could have made her commands foggy to Mr. Cruthcher? Did she consider that he could have had a hearing impairment issue with his right ear?

“I was afraid to stop my vehicle,  I was scared someone would come up from behind and want my truck,” Jeffery Allen Wilson of Sperry, Okla.  -whereby the town’s white population is 70.64%, and Sperry’s black population is only 0.51%. Wilson moved to Okla. in 1961, during an era when Jim Crow Laws were still in place. Wilson waited until the next morning to contact his son who works for the Tulsa Police Department in regards to his mild encounter with Terrence Crutcher. Wilson never spoke to Terence because he later said: “I was afraid to roll my windows down.” 

In homogenous communities in America, white people too often deem black lives as criminal and predatorial based on what they see and hear on television. White Americans often live in homogenously white communities with little to no diversity; therefore, they become conditioned to their immediate environments; thus any behavior not standard to their way of life can be seen as unusual. Henceforth, Betty Shelby’s actions led to the death of Terence Crutcher because she wasn’t raised nor exposed enough to people of different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. She also had no knowledge that Terence had a medical condition in his right eye. Therefore, the only way Crutcher could see Shelby was to turn his entire body or head so he could see her out of his functioning eye.  

And Wilsons statements were a reaction to the fact that he resides in a town where the black population was less than 1%. Again, Betty Shelby lives in a town where the black population is less than 1.8%, and that’s a problem for people that want to or that get sent to police communities of color. 

Questions Should Be Asked

  1. Have you taken classes on cultural competency?
  2. What kind of exposure do you have to African-Americans outside of work or is policing predominantly black neighborhoods the most exposure you get in a 24 hour period?
  3. Do you have African Americans you consider friends whereby you invite them over for dinner?
  4. Are you more stressed when working in communities of color?

These types of questions create transparency for the community and could help lead to solutions in accidental racial biased shooting and help understand why the person shot the victim.

Unfortunately, Officer Betty Shelby who is also an agent of the state has been instructed to not testify, which I think should be unconstitutional because she acted as agent the night Terence was killed and we paid her our tax dollars. She works for us and should have to answer to us on the witness stand and give her account of what happened on the evening she murdered Terrence. 

How Public Opinion is Swayed Via Social Media, Local News, and in a Courtroom

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Sheriff Scott Walton of Rogers County, knows all too well, about influencing public opinion. On Thursday, May 4, 2017, Sheriff Walton produced a statement on Rogers County Sheriff’s Office’s letterhead. His personal opinion became the view point of the state because he represents law enforcement which is an agency of the state that’s paid by tax dollars from all citizens. Moreover, because his institution supports Officer Betty Shelby’s choice of shooting to kill a direct result of the historical, racialized, hegemonic system as a whole receives, and in the homogeneously white neighborhood she now resides, as previously mentioned, exemplifies the evolution of the pathologies in the sub-conscience racially biased police shooting.

What makes this social-media-post hegemonic in nature is the amount of influence this post possess: – 91,000 views, 317 likes, and 130 shares. The Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police – FOP Public Page currently has 11,662 followers. Recently FOP Facebook page has posted information on the Betty Shelby Trial, siding with Betty in efforts to sway public opinion.

I was recently informed that FOP is responsible for deciding where newly trained officers serve first and are based on a lottery system. This type of practice is dangerous for communities of color because it opens the door to individuals who have little to no exposure with minorities; whereby, a non-exposed person could potentially be placed in the Gilcrease unit. Currently, the Gilcrease unit and the Tulsa Police Department does not provide cultural competency training classes for their officers.

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The published photo above speaks volumes on how institutional racism works. They use minorities when it’s convenient. Hence, this picture was strategically placed to sway public opinion to show a calm Betty Shelby with thankful black people. However, the tall African American male in the back could have easily been in the place Terrence Crutcher was.

We support our police officers and simultaneously agree to disagree on why the Black Lives Matter movement is or isn’t productive. However, when an institution as powerful as TPD and or FOP chooses to be the adversary to the community a horrific situation occurs where psychological walls are constructed. When this take place, who supports the community when accidents and mistakes are made by the police? The community will not trust cops if cops are taking sides when the community is seeking justice for an accident. We must find better ways to communicate and educate our community of police and of black lives in the understanding of our differences in culture but elevate our likeness as human beings, which should inevitably be the rope that ties us together as one.