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The sound of a beating drum and passing cars were all that filled the air for several minutes as a crowd of Tulsans held a candlelight vigil for Terence Crutcher in a field outside the 36 Street North Event Center Thursday evening.
Organizers timed the vigil to take place at the exact time Terence Crutcher was killed by former Tulsa Police Department officer Betty Shelby five years ago.
As relatives and religious leaders solemnly called and prayed for justice for Terence, his twin sister Dr. Tiffany Crutcher was roughly 1,200 miles away pushing U.S. Senators to pass a transformative federal policing bill in Washington D.C.
Candlelight vigil five years after murder of Terence Crutcher Sr.
For several minutes news cameras captured a silent crowd at Thursday’s candlelight vigil before hearing from several speakers.
Religious leaders prayed with the crowd, asking God how long the family must continue to wait to receive justice for the murder of an unarmed Black father, college student, and churchgoer who happened to be stuck on the side of the road.
Greg Robinson II, a community leader and 2020 Tulsa mayoral candidate who comes from a family of civil rights leaders, spoke about the work left to do.
Vigil speakers call for policy change, justice
“When Betty Shelby was acquitted of the murder of Terence Crutcher, Dr. Crutcher and the Crutcher family stood before this city and stood before the nation and promised they would not stop fighting until they saw policies change to make sure what happened to Terence Crutcher would never happen again.”
Dr. Crutcher and her family would spend years after the verdict attending city council meetings, pleading with leaders to pursue justice for their loved one.
The family established the Terence Crutcher Foundation in 2017 to assist families in need and to advocate for transformative policies that would create “just and liberated communities free from racial violence and harm”, according to the foundation’s website.
When city and state leaders refused to pursue those policies, Dr. Crutcher took her fight to the halls of Congress. Lobbying with legislatures, she detailed her resolve to pursue transformative change in an interview with The Black Wall Street Times in May.
Justice denied for Crutcher family during Trump Administration
During the Trump Administration, federal prosecutors flew down to Tulsa and told Dr. Crutcher they would not pursue charges against Betty Shelby.
“I asked one question: ‘You mean my family isn’t gonna get justice? What do I tell my community?’” Dr. Crutcher said in an article published in The Black Wall St. Times Greenwood 100 Magazine.
“And I refused to let them see me cry,” she added. “I pulled my shoulders back, and I held my head up. They looked me in the eye and said ‘it’s gonna take an act of Congress.’ And I told them, ‘well that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.’ And she did.
Dr. Crutcher became influential in the creation of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill.
Among other things, it would create a national standard for police use of force, make it easier to sue officers who commit abuse, and make it easier for officers to be charged for excessive use of force.
Press conference calls for reopening of investigation, passage of federal policing bill
Weary of talk and no action, Dr. Crutcher recently participated in a press conference at attorney Ben Crump’s D.C. office on Wednesday, calling for the Department of Justice to reopen the investigation into Terence Crutcher’s death.
She also pushed politicians to wipe the dust off of the bill and finally pass it.
At the event, Dr. Crutcher detailed a conversation she had with moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. The Senator has become known for refusing to let Democrats pass bills without Republican support.
“I asked him unequivocally ‘where do you stand?’ Do you support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. And he said ‘absolutely,’” Dr. Crutcher announced at Thursday’s press conference. She said Manchin told her he’d be meeting with Republican Senator Tim Scott next week to get an update.
At Thursday’s press conference, Greg Robinson II acted as a surrogate for Dr. Crutcher, passionately pleading for a new direction in how the city operates its police department.
“Five years later and there’s still no justice. Five years later and we’ve yet to institute an Office of the Independent Monitor,” Greg Robinson II said at Thursday’s vigil.
He brought up the names of other police murder victims, including Joshua Barre and Joshua Harvey, who’ve died at the hands of Tulsa police in recent years with no justice for their families.
Mayor breaks promises on police oversight
Following the 2016 death of Terence Crutcher, Mayor G.T. Bynum promised the community he would support and ultimately establish an independent review of police by civilians called an Office of the Independent Monitor.
“We recognize that the greatest issue that we need help with is racial disparity in Tulsa,” Bynum told KTUL in 2017 after a jury voted not to convict Betty Shelby.
Last year, during George Floyd protests taking place across the nation, #WeCan’tBreathe organizers in Tulsa marched for justice, too.
Afterwards, during a 2020 meeting with organizers, Mayor Bynum agreed to talk with the family about their civil lawsuit against the city and promised to establish the Office of the Independent Monitor, according to The Tulsa World.
Yet, five years after Terence Sr.’s death, when Betty Shelby left him lying in a pool of blood instead of rendering aid, the city has now taken a different tone.
After hiring the city’s first permanent Black police chief, Mayor Bynum no longer acts with urgency on matters of police oversight or accountability.
Most recently, the police chief has implemented his own internal advisory system. He created advisory boards for each patrol division, hand-picked by TPD. Completely changing his attitude on independent oversight from a few years ago, the Mayor was quoted calling it a “disaster” to give civilians potential power to recommend discipline and to critique officers’ actions.
Instead, he said an independent system of evaluation would be “absolutely in my mind the next step, further down the road.”
Tulsa police one of the deadliest in the nation
The decision to kick independent oversight down the road comes even as city councilors have expressed confusion and distrust over the internal process. They say they weren’t consulted on any advisory board picks.
“I think that it is basically the police hand-picking who they want serving on these committees,” City Councilor Vanessa Hall Harper recently told the Tulsa World.
“And I think they are trying to do everything they can to avoid the fact and the reality that we need independent monitoring, and as long the Police Department is controlling everything as it relates to the community engagement and the community reporting that we are not going to build trust.”
Meanwhile, since 2017, Tulsa police have killed nearly 20 people, according to Mapping Police Violence. Consistently, police in the U.S. kill roughly 1000 civilians per year, and Tulsa ranks in the top ten among the most deadly police departments in the nation.
Nationwide, U.S. police officers have killed more than 5,100 people since 2017.
Turning pain into purpose
For the Crutcher family, the pain of their loss was amplified, not only by the city’s lack of action on police accountability and oversight, but also the death of a matriarch. Dr. Crutcher’s mother Leanna Crutcher, died in January of 2021 from COVID-19. Her death came after Mayor Bynum apologized for comments he made on national television about Terence.
When asked on CBS if he felt Crutcher would have been killed if he were White, the mayor said no.
“It is more about the really insidious nature of drug utilization than it is about race, in my opinion,” Mayor Bynum said in June 2020.
Yet, Dr. Crutcher continues to build momentum and support for the very things the city of Tulsa has been reluctant to address: justice for Terence Crutcher and a transformative change in police policies that would prevent future killings.
Dr. Crutcher’s father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, ended the candlelight vigil with a prayer.
“Gracious God, we come right now asking that you look at the leaders of this city. Look at their hearts. Dear God, we want you to work a miracle. We want you to work a miracle in this town, in this country, in this world.”