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By Orisabiyi Williams, community activist, author and Chair of the GTAAAC
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 my friend, Bill White, messaged me and asked me to attend in support of the Crutcher family. I wrestled with the idea of going. And 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 a person while watching the trial in which their 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 courtroom and watched the prosecutors blast their defense and 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 bad dude,” a Black man in America, 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 with our sons. This fear goes for our husbands, uncles, cousins, brothers and fathers.
There are well-funded studies done to figure out why Black 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 Black Americans, are unaware that Black American women suffer from PTSD unknowingly. We are sufferers of racial weathering caused by systemic racism; this includes experiencing and witnessing police brutality.
Be it verbally or physically, the majority of Black men in our lives have faced various forms of police brutality. My own son, at 15, was accused of breaking into cars in a parking lot while 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 Black 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 Black Americans. Because when you are Black, there are different sets of rules to live by.
When my son was 12-years-old, he wanted an Air-soft Gun because his white friends had them. 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 or her that he or she has to go by a different set of rules because he or she is Black.
Each decision we Black Americans make requires critical thought because second chances are not commodities in our world.
It is damaging and detrimental to our sons and daughters when we have to remind them that they are Black. No matter how high they climb up the socio-economic ladder, they will always be Black first and American second and will be viewed as the “Big Bad Dude” or the potential “Angry Black Woman.”
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 of the color our skin.
We have to prove that we are 5/5ths and fully human.
And because I’m keenly aware of that, I can’t allow my son to wear a hoodie, certain colors, or hats while driving or riding in a car and walking down the street. We are not allowed the privilege of doubt in this city, state and nation. We can never assume that a White person or a court will give us that benefit. To do so would be a gamble of our Black 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 it’s 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 Black people. Therefore, it’s imperative that my Black son and all our Black sons do all they can to stay out of the hands of America’s judicial system.
If we are not careful, the judicial system will kidnap our children, funneling them through the school-to-prison pipeline, label our children as dysfunctional, and use the prison industrial complex to break up Black families and communities.
“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 ‘aw,’ suddenly I begin hearing all the dangerous side effects while these scenes continue to roll.
These commercials remind me of Tulsa. People see this beautiful city and willfully ignore the painful side effects because their White lives are not affected by them.
People seem to forget that just because they aren’t affected by something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. As a Black 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 it, he has to survive spiritually as well as physically.
If I ruled the world, I would free my people from this burden and the continuous cycle of racial trauma.
Imagine what happens to the psyche and world-view of young Black men when they learn that a White person has the right to kill them with impunity if they become fearful or threatened by them based on negative stereotypes of Black Americans in the media.
Imagine the mindset of Terence Crutcher’s children when they read articles 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 city, state, nation, and the world, and what White people can do is speak for me, speak for my son, speak for all our sons, and speak for Terence Crutcher when they are in positions to affect policy changes that will benefit Black Americans and show them in a positive light when White people have larger platforms.
Hence, we need White Americans to see themselves when they see us.
Oh, if I ruled the world.
Orisabiyi Oyin Williams is a mother of two, a community activist, author and Chair of the Greater Tulsa African American Affairs Commission Orisabiyi was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania and later moved to Tulsa at the age of 10. She graduated from Memorial High School in 1993. She is a Community Activist and believes in leaving her community in a better state than how she found it. Orisabiyi serves as Chair of the Tulsa’s Coalition for Social Justice, a member of The Tulsa African Study Group. Orisabiyi has been involved in initiatives such as bringing awareness and education to the community. Orisabiyi was the Campaign Manager for City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper and helped establish the African American Affairs Commission in Tulsa, with City Councilor and Community Activist Vanessa Hall Harper.