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Opinion | by Dawn Tree
Managing Editor | Liz Frank
Editor-in-Chief | Nehemiah Frank
The jury has spoken, and Officer Betty Shelby got off Scot-free on her first-degree manslaughter charge on Wednesday, May 17.
She even managed to retain a position on the Tulsa Police Department’s staff and received paid administrative leave the whole duration of the investigation and trial.
On Sept. 16, 2016, Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man, was fatally shot by white police officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was unarmed during the encounter, standing near his vehicle. Crutcher’s SUV was parked in the middle of East 36th Street North when Shelby confronted him.
Out of the 12 jurors, only three were black, according to reports from the trial. One source, who was in the courtroom, reported that one of the black jurors was a Republican and that the other two were young women, just past voting age.
The evidence presented at the trial proved to be very suspicious; so suspicious that any reasonable person should question how Shelby and the Tulsa Police Department were able to walk away with impunity after killing a man, without any apprehensions for future repercussions. The only punishment or misfortune for Shelby was not able to return to street patrol, but instead being placed on desk duty.
The overall response from white Oklahomans, who were willing to speak to me about the verdict, has been confliction. However, most did not want to engage on the topic at all.
One might say, “How can you be conflicted in this case? He had no weapon and used no force?” Others would argue, “He didn’t listen to commands, walked back to his vehicle, and apparently lowered one of his hands. But his actions warranted being Tased, rather than shot.”
Christian, a 53-year-old book publisher, is a resident of Owasso, a suburb north of Tulsa, and she said that she’s conflicted:
“I’m conflicted myself, but it’s true, there were three other officers there; the most that needed to be done is a teaser and handcuff him. He did not need to be killed.”
Many white residents were hesitant to give their opinion, but, in spite of that, some agreed to speak anonymously with The Black Wall Street Times.
A 31-year-old city worker remained neutral by saying she has a friend who works for the Tulsa Police Department and wishes to not to comment on the subject.
One of Tulsa’s most prominent white citizens, Mayor G.T. Bynum, refused to answer questions or offer commentary on the verdict either. After emailing questions to his office, the mayor’s office sends this quick reply:
“Thank you for contacting Mayor Bynum. At this time he is not doing any interviews on these topics.”
I also attempted to interview a white professor at the University of Oklahoma. In the past, the professor has advocated for African-American rights, but, despite that fact, they offered no comment either.
The cause for their silence on this issue is either that they are scared, or they are very much okay with the verdict.
The Mayor made a statement at a televised press conference the morning after the verdict:
“After considering days of testimony and undergoing its own deliberation, the jury has spoken. I appreciate the jurors’ service to our community and respect their verdict. But this verdict does not alter the course on which we are adamantly set. It does not change our recognition of the racial disparities that have afflicted Tulsa historically. It does not change our work to institute community policing measures that empower citizens to work side by side with police officers in making our community safer. And no one has been calling for the resources to implement community policing more actively over a longer period of time than the men and women of our Tulsa Police Department. So, we are moving forward together – Tulsans from all parts of the city, police officers and everyday citizens – with a unified purpose to make this a better place for all of us.”
African Americans in Tulsa are and have always been the victims of outright hostility, a fact stated by Bynum in his May 18 press conference:
“I would remind Tulsans that our history shows us African Americans in Tulsa have not been the instigators of lawlessness and violence. They have been the victims of them.” [emphasis added]
However, the Mayor respects the jury’s judgment and wishes to move forward.
Crutcher’s father, Rev. Joey Crutcher, wonders how the city can move forward. He told “The Oklahoma Eagle,” after the verdict was announced that the city co-signed the murder of his son:
“Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder.”
Without justice, how can Tulsa move forward?
Acknowledging the perpetual victimization of African Americans in Tulsa is just not enough. We need to seek empowerment by following the money and paper trails of the city; by letting city officials know that the public disagrees with their silence by showing up to local elections; and by just being visible in the community.
The passivity of whites should not alter the progression of Black Tulsa.