Opinion | Orisabiyi Williams
Managing Editor | Liz Frank
After the murder of my son’s father in 2009 and the countless days I spent sitting through his murderer’s trial, I vowed to never again step one foot in the Tulsa County Courthouse.
You could have never convinced me that on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, I would find myself back in the Tulsa County Courthouse watching the closing arguments of Betty Shelby’s trial for killing Terence Crutcher.
Actually I didn’t think of going until Bill White messaged me and asked me to attend in support of the Crutcher family. All that day I wrestled with the idea of going. Later in the day I thought of Bill’s wife, Kandi, who is Terence Crutcher’s cousin. Immediately, I was reminded of the pain and stress that accompanies watching the trial in which a loved one is the victim. So I wanted to show my support for them and the rest of the Crutcher family.
As I sat in that court room and watched the prosecutors blast the defense on all their lies, I thought that just maybe there was a chance of hope that Shelby would get some type of punishment for her actions.
One thing that remains constant in my mind about Betty Shelby is that she has stated continuously that she WAS VERY AFRAID FOR HER LIFE. “Big bad dude” was what Crutcher was referred to by an officer in the helicopter witnessing the incident. That was his crime. He was a big bad dude.
As an African-American single mother raising a 16 year-old son, who will one day become a “big dad dude,” it shakes my soul and causes a tremendous amount of stress that one shouldn’t have to live with.
The fear African American parents have when our sons leave our homes is ridiculous. When they begin to drive, go to a movie with friends, or walk to the stores the most highly stressful hours of our days are created.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at our sons. This fear goes for our husbands, uncles, cousins, brothers and fathers.
There are well-funded studies done to figure out why African Americans live shorter lives than our white brothers and sisters. I can tell you for free, WE ARE EMOTIONALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY STRESSED OUT, CONSCIOUSLY AND SUBCONSCIOUSLY!
Many people, particularly African Americans, do not know that African American women suffer from PTSD unknowingly because of the tragic events that we face with our African American men who have suffered from tremendous violence, including the experiences they face with police brutality.
The majority of the men in our lives has faced police brutality. My own son, at 15, was accused of breaking into cars in a parking lot while he was riding his bike. I’m blessed that he only had a flashlight shined in his face rather than a bullet in his skull.
Living with the fear that the men in our lives may not come home because of their skin color has adverse effects on the mental health of African-American women.
Stress will give you an early death. The definition of stress is a measure of your mental and physical resistance to circumstances beyond your control.
White people will never understand the world through the eyes of African Americans. There is a different set of rules for us.
When my son was 12 years-old he wanted an Air-soft Gun because his friends who were white had one. I had to sit my son down and explain to him that he could never have an Air-soft Gun because that would be a matter of life or death for him. Remember Tamir Rice?
There is no greater pain than to sit your child down and explain to him/her that they have to go by a different set of rules because they are African Americans. Each decision that they make requires critical thought because second chances are not commodities in our world.
It is damaging and detrimental to our sons when we have to remind them that they are black first. No matter how high they climb up the socio-economic ladder they will always be black first and will be viewed as the “Big Bad Dude.”
We have to fight for everything in this nation; quality education, access to healthy food, and most importantly, we have to fight to prove that we are not threatening drug-addicts, dope-dealers and “big bad dudes” because the color our skin comes first.
Because I know that, I can’t allow my son to wear a hoodie, certain colors, or hats while driving or riding in a car. We are not allowed the benefit of the doubt in this city, state and nation. We can never assume that a white person will give us the benefit of the doubt because it is gambling with our lives.
No one cares that Terence Crutcher was a father, a college student, and a good person. They just paid attention to his flaws because its easier to dehumanize a person if you make their mistakes and flaws larger than their good.
The judicial system in America was never designed to work for African Americans. It’s imperative that my African-American son and all our African-American sons do all they can to stay out of the hands of America’s judicial system.
If we let it the judicial system will kidnap our children, funneling them through the school to prison pipeline, labeling our children as disordered with conditions like ADHD, using the prison industrial complex to breakup African-American families.
“White Privilege” means not having the burden of explaining to their children that this country is designed against them; that every obstacle has been put in their paths. Without these impediments, white Americans are allowed to accomplish the “American Dream.”
So many people talk about how Tulsa is a great city. I hear phrases such as “Resilient Tulsa” and “One Tulsa.” Every time I hear these platitudes it reminds me of pharmaceutical ads on TV. They always start with a happy beautiful scene of a family sitting at a table all loving each other. A couple in love or grandparents playing with their grandchildren and just as I say “awwwww,” suddenly I begin hearing all the dangerous side affects while these scenes continue to roll.
These commercials remind me of Tulsa: People see this beautiful city and willfully ignore the painful side affects because they are not affected by them.
People seem to forget that just because you aren’t affected by something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. As an African-American mother, it’s not only my job to make sure my son becomes a productive, morally-engaged citizen, I also have to teach him how to survive institutional racism. Furthermore, I have to teach him how to be liberated through experiencing racism because from his experiences with racism he has to survive spiritually as well as physically.
If I ruled the world I would free my people from this burden and continuous cycle of trauma. Imagine what happens to the psyche and world-view of young, African-American males when they learn that a white person has the right to kill them if they become fearful or threatened by them based on negative stereotypes of African Americans.
Imagine the mindset of Terence Crutcher’s children when they read The Frontier’s article interviewing a juror who admitted that he thought Betty Shelby was guilty, but because the jurors were hungry and tired a few of them came to a “not guilty” vote because they didn’t know how much longer they would have to deliberate that day. That truly speaks to the value, or lack thereof, that is placed on African-American lives.
There are many white people who believe that Betty Shelby was guilty and support the Crutcher family. There are many white people who want to help eradicate racism in Tulsa and throughout this nation. Those white people will ask, “How do I help?”
White Americans rule this world, and what you can do is speak for me, speak for my son, speak for all our sons, and speak for Terence Cructher when you are in positions to affect policy change that will benefit African Americans and show them in a positive light when you have a voice in media. We need white Americans to see themselves when they see us.
Oh if I ruled the world.
Iba se Terence Crutcher.