Photo Courtesy of Color of Change
By: Nate Morris
Tulsa, Okla. — Scores of community members gathered together under the scorching midday summer sun for a press conference in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse on Monday, August 27th. Activists, educators, pastors and elected officials of different races and political ideologies spoke under a unified banner summarized in one simple hashtag: #BanBetty. The movement, which began less than a week ago, exploded into nationwide headlines as a private course was thrust into public view.
On Friday evening, in what Sheriff Vic Regalado reportedly described as a “leak to the media”, news reached the Crutcher family and the larger Tulsa community that Betty Shelby, who was tried for manslaughter in the 2016 shooting death of unarmed Terence Crutcher, was scheduled to teach a training course at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office headquarters for local officers entitled “Surviving the Aftermath of a Critical Incident”. Within hours, information had spread across social media, spurring organizing efforts across the city to call on the TCSO to cancel the course.
By Monday morning, as the press conference approached, national civil rights activist Brittany Packnett had begun amplifying the story on Twitter and Instagram, urging Tulsans to attend the event.
Speakers, including Dr. Rodney Goss (pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church), Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper and State Representative Regina Goodwin, stood alongside Terence Crutcher’s parents as they delivered a forceful message condemning Shelby’s involvement in the course as “insulting” and “dangerous”.
“When you have a teacher like Betty Shelby: that’s what chaos looks like, that’s what disunity looks like, that’s what an inflammatory action looks like. It’s a bullet to our psyches; it’s a bullet to this family,” said Goodwin. “Terence Crutcher didn’t get the opportunity to talk about the ‘aftermath’.”
Photo Courtesy of Bad Dude: Justice in Black & White
Following the community outcry, Sheriff Regalado reached out to Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s sister. According to sources familiar with the conversation, Crutcher asked Regalado (who had not reached out to the family prior to Shelby being booked) to cancel the course, find a new instructor or, at the very least, allow an individual chosen by the family to sit in on the course. The Sheriff indicated he would not meet any of the family’s requests and Regalado’s office issued no public apology to the Crutcher family (another unanimous ask by the speakers at the press conference).
On Tuesday morning, as Betty Shelby prepared to begin her course in front of 22 officers from across the state, the story began to break on national outlets including CNN, Vox and The Washington Post. By Wednesday morning, news of the class was occupying a segment on Good Morning America.
Public Information Officer Justin Green from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office made himself available to The Black Wall Street Times on multiple occasions over the course of the week to provide additional information.
Green could not divulge specifics of the course, but did confirm that the CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) had certified the course and that the training was free to officers who attended. Shelby, he said, received no compensation.
He also confirmed that Shelby’s description of the course in a local news interview last May accurately described at least “a portion” of the course. In that interview, Shelby stated that her course centered around what she described as “The Ferguson Effect”, referring to the community outrage after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in 2014.
According to Green, this part of the course focused on how officers can manage, as Shelby described it, being “victimized by anti-police groups and tried in the court of public opinion”. Green would not name which, if any, groups were specifically mentioned in the training, but did tell The Black Wall Street Times that “there are definitely parts of the culture that are anti-law enforcement”.
The day of the training itself, The Black Wall Street Times was forwarded an email from the State of Oklahoma indicating that the course was not officially sponsored by CLEET (the official officer certification organization for Oklahoma), but was simply certified to meet CLEET standards.
“Annually, CLEET sponsors approximately 100 continuing education courses,” the email reads. “This course is not one of the 100 courses sponsored by CLEET, rather the course is provided by an outside source”.
According to Title 390 of the Office of Administrative Rules for the Oklahoma State Government, applications for CLEET courses provided by an outside source or instructor must be made in writing and include a resume and course outline submitted by the instructor.
When asked about who sponsored the class, Green stated that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office provided the space for the meeting to occur, but it was Betty Shelby herself who reached out and applied to teach the course to officers in Tulsa.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office to get in touch with Officer Shelby for comment, but has not heard back as of the publication of this article.
Organizers of the resistance to Shelby’s role in teaching the course plan to continue their efforts in the days and weeks ahead by continuing to call on city and county leaders to adopt reform measures. Color of Change, a national organization which promotes causes aimed at ending practices of injustice targeted at Black people in America, recently started a petition to ban Shelby from future law-enforcement trainings. The petition is currently trending.
Throughout the week, community leaders have publicly labeled the TCSO’s decision to host Shelby’s course as “tone-deaf”, “insensitive”, and even “malicious”. When asked about deference to the family amid the community backlash, Officer Green noted that the department “doesn’t typically reach out to the community to determine what courses to host” and said that the Sheriff’s Office believed that this information “was necessary and pertinent” for officers to hear.
“I’m not sure why it was such a big deal this time,” Green said, noting that this was not the first time the course had been taught in Tulsa by Shelby since the Crutcher shooting.
Green, who noted that he is “involved in a lot of community policing” himself, stated that he doesn’t view relations between Tulsa citizens and law enforcement, specifically the Sheriff’s Office, as particularly strained. “Being a Black officer myself,” Green stated, “ I generally hear positive things and that’s by and large what I see in communities.”
Even as efforts to remove Shelby from future teaching schedules in the city and state continue, the current national spotlight has not seemed to shift the practices of hosting courses taught by officers like Shelby who were involved in shootings or “critical incidents”.
“I don’t know that there are plans to alter how we do our trainings,” Green said.
Nate Morris is the senior editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. He received his master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Morris is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area. He is an advocate for educational equity as well as racial and social justice throughout Tulsa and the nation as a whole.