Editorial

How Betty Shelby Got Away With Murder: White Privilege – Part 1


Opinion | by Nehemiah D. Frank

Managing Editor | Liz Frank

An acquittal does not prove innocence, and a verdict doesn’t always render justice.

We have been told that to relate the history of Tulsa is to tell a tale of two cities: one black and one white.

The first story is of an oil town, settled in pre-Columbian times by the Great Plains Natives, and later by the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” who brought their African-American chattel through the Trails of Tears.

The second tale starts with the free blacks who migrated to the state to escape the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws of the Deep South, which ended up being in vain because Oklahoma’s first law was to segregate the races:

(E)very railway company, urban or suburban car company, streetcar or interurban car or railway company … shall provide separate coaches or compartments as hereinafter provided for the accommodation of the white and negro races, which separate coaches or cars shall be equal in all points of comfort and convenience.

Okla. Senate Bill One, Approved December 18, 1907

In addition to the Oklahoma Senate’s action, white settlers, including Tate Brady of Tulsa, Okla., established the law of separation. The legalized separation based on race was a policy so potent it set the stage for the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

Since the 1921 massacre, policies like this have caused mass incarceration to balloon into an epidemic in the black community, and led to a “not guilty” verdict in Officer Betty Shelby’s criminal trial for the killing of Terence Crutcher. Institutions that have historically supported bigoted and racist policies in Tulsa automatically and forcefully came to her defense because she was one of their own and Crutcher was the feared “other.”

Some white people say “they don’t see color,” but the construct of race is perpetuated by whites so that they can maintain the illusion of superiority that they think their skin color grants them.

The hegemony calls themselves “white,” so they can identify anything darker than themselves as less-than white. They call the decedents of the African continent “black.” Because they have been the dominant cultural since they stepped foot in the New World, whites brainwashed blacks to perceive themselves in contrast to white society: White is right, and black is bad.

“That looks like a bad dude,” an unidentified Tulsa Police Department helicopter pilot said of Crutcher before Shelby shot and killed the unarmed man. What made Crutcher “a bad dude,” especially when seen from hundreds of feet in the air?

The U.S. Constitution, written by slave-holding white men, is a living document, and the government that it forms is a body – an institution with an immune system that attacks anything that appears foreign to protect its existence. Its antibodies are the color blue, which protect the white cells against the black.

Police are the agents of white power, who criminalize, incarcerate, and kill what white society deems a threat. Law enforcement agencies swear to protect all communities, but history reveals another side for every minority group in this nation.

Japanese-Americans were forced into concentration camps during World War II, Natives were forced to give up their ancestral  lands, and Africans were dehumanized through slavery.

Most powerful white people have a superiority complex that makes them unwilling to admit their individual racial biases, ensuring that they can never correct the evils that created their society and allow for its continued prosperity. Until white people abandon their illiberal racism, America (and Tulsa) will continue to setup our entire country (and community) for failure.

Mayor G.T. Bynum took a positive step in a press conference on Thursday morning. He said, “African Americans, in Tulsa, have not been the instigators of lawlessness and riots; they have been the victims of them. So I would ask that we not keep assuming the worst for a part of our community, or from a part of our community, that has been exposed to the worst in this city’s history.”

White people must self-reflect on their biases against black people and other people of color, and work to correct prejudice, eliminating their ignorance through community action and outreach.

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