Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, who shot and killed an unarmed black man, pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree manslaughter brought against her. Shelby is due back in court on November 29.
The incident in question occurred earlier this month when Shelby, a five-year veteran with the Tulsa Police Department, was responding to 911 calls regarding a car stalled in the middle of the road and its driver who was acting suspiciously.
Footage of the shooting from both a helicopter and a dashboard camera show the man, Terrence Crutcher, slowly walking away from officers toward his car with his hands up. As Mr. Crutcher appears to reach into the driver’s side window, he is shot.
While the other officers who arrived on the scene refrained from using their weapons, Ms. Shelby fired her weapon because Mr. Crutcher failed to comply with her commands and she “was in fear of her life.” Scott Wood, Shelby’s attorney, told the Tulsa World, “He has his hands up and is facing the car and looks at Shelby, and his left-hand goes through the car window, and that’s when she fired her shot.” No weapons were found on Mr. Crutcher or in his vehicle.
We have reached a dangerous point in this country when people are quick to pass judgments and refuse to wait for the facts.
Those on social media were quick to condemn Officer Shelby and peg her at the least as a horribly incompetent officer and at worst a murderer and racist. While the video footage certainly does not make the police officer look good, we should not point fingers and call police officers murderers and racists before knowing all the facts.
Terrence Crutcher’s family, members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and many others in this country claim that Mr. Crutcher was complying with officers’ commands. They say since his hands were up, he was obeying orders. However, if this is true, why was he walking away from officers? No police officer would ever command someone to put their hands up and slowly walk back to their car where there could be a weapon. It makes much more sense to order them to put their hands up and either stay where they are or get on the ground. Unless if the encounter is over, a person would not be told to go back to their car and in this case the encounter clearly was not over.
Furthermore, Officer Shelby says she believed Mr. Crutcher was under the influence of PCP. Shelby, who has drug-recognition training, claims that Crutcher’s strange and erratic behavior led her to believe he was on PCP. This is important to note because, under the influence of PCP, a person hallucinates and does not feel pain, thus rendering a Taser useless. Autopsy and toxicology reports have yet to be released, but if they indicate Crutcher was under the influence, it could prove to be a major factor in the outcome of the trial. Such an autopsy result would not necessarily absolve Ms. Shelby of her actions. Additional evidence, such as statements from officers on the scene and anyone who may have seen Crutcher at the scene before officers arrived, would be needed to acquit Shelby. However, if Crutcher was in fact on PCP, it could be argued that he was a threat and thus Shelby was justified in her actions.
I want to make it clear that I am in no way trying to justify this shooting. The video footage appears to be very damning to Ms. Shelby and hopefully truth and justice will prevail in the end. However, I do not believe Ms. Shelby is a murderer or that she shot and killed Terrence Crutcher solely because he was black. We have reached a dangerous point in this country when people are quick to pass judgments and refuse to wait for the facts. If we, as a country, place the blame on others rather than considering the facts, then we will never be able to come together and improve our nation.