|Politics, Race and Policing
Two recent high-profile shootings of unarmed Black men have once again thrust the need for criminal justice reform into the national spotlight.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma 40-year-old Terrance Crutcher was shot by Officer Betty Shelby, who is white, after his vehicle broke down on the highway.
The disturbing images captured by dash-cam video as well as video from a helicopter overhead clearly shows Crutcher walking toward his
car with his hands visibly in the air. As backup arrives, a taser is deployed, at which time Shelby shoots Crutcher and calls out “shots fired.” It
did not appear that Crutcher had made any threatening movements toward the officers, but allegations were made by Shelby that he was
refusing to follow commands and she thought he might have been reaching for a weapon inside of the automobile. It would later be determined
that the window was rolled up. At any rate, the single shot fired by Shelby ultimately killed Crutcher as he lay bleeding on the ground without
any medical intervention by either of the officers on scene for several minutes. Crutcher did not have a weapon and posed no discernible
threat to the officers.
The video sparked outrage as it appeared from all accounts that Crutcher clearly had his hands in the air before being shot. Shelby indicated
that she believed that Crutcher was under the influence of narcotics and allegedly PCP was found inside of Crutcher’s broken down truck.
After reviewing the video, a decision was made by the Tulsa district attorney to file charges of manslaughter. Shelby turned herself in and
posted bond as the case remains under investigation.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton both weighed in on the shooting while on
the campaign trail. Trump indicated that he was “very troubled” by the shooting and further stated that it appeared that Crutcher was doing
everything right and that Shelby is someone who should not be a police officer because she ‘choked.’ Clinton described the shooting as
“unbearable and should be intolerable.” Both candidates will undoubtedly use this for political traction as the race for the White House tightens.
Some 1,200 miles away in Charlotte, North Carolina another high profile shooting has sparked rioting and violence, prompting the governor to
declare a state of emergency and the city’s mayor to issue a curfew. Forty-three-year old Keith Lamont Scott was shot while he sat inside of his
vehicle awaiting his son’s arrival from school. The shooting of Scott is far more controversial than Crutcher’s as Charlotte Police have refused
to release the video for public consumption despite outcry from the public as well as Scott’s family who reviewed the video. Police accounts
vary wildly from those of eyewitnesses. Police contend that they were in the area to serve a warrant when they observed Scott sitting in his
car with a gun visible. It is important to keep in mind that North Carolina is an open carry state. According to police, verbal commands were
given for Scott to exit his vehicle and drop the weapon. Upon exiting the vehicle, Scott refused to drop the weapon and was subsequently shot
four times by Officer Brently Vinson, who is Black. Eyewitness accounts indicate that Scott was reading a book when police encountered him.
After the shooting, a photograph emerged showing what appeared to be a handgun lying next to Scott’s feet while he was on the ground dying.
Despite the loud public outcry and the Scott family’s wish to have the video released, Chief Kerr Putney is refusing to do so stating that it might
hamper the investigation. Putney did acknowledge in an interview that it did not appear that Scott made any threatening or aggressive moves
towards the officer before being shot. Many believe that releasing the video would assuage public angst and mistrust of a criminal justice
system that places the protection of the officer over the public’s right to view what happened. Vinson is currently on administrative leave, but
no criminal charges have been filed as of yet.
As mentioned earlier, both Clinton and Trump have weighed in on these high profile cases and have offered a stark contrast of opinions about
what needs to happen to keep us all safe. Trump wants to reinstitute ‘stop and frisk.’ You may recall that this was a practice used in New York
that was ultimately ruled unconstitutional. Trump suggested this during a candidates forum rally when he was asked about how to stop Black
on Black crime. Trump’s comment that the stop and frisk tactic used by police in New York was effective is incongruent with the data. Eighty
percent of the police stop and frisk tactics were used against people of color and the vast majority of those stops did not result in any criminal
charges and did not reduce crime despite Trump’s assertion that “it worked incredibly well.” The fact of the matter is that it did not. Racial
profiling is not an effective strategy for reducing crime and only breeds mistrust and contempt for law enforcement among the people in
communities they are sworn to serve and protect. Conversely, Clinton is pushing for criminal justice reform that will end racial profiling as a
Transparency and accountability are essential for gaining public trust, particularly in communities of color. The need to further address racial
disparities in the criminal justice system has to remain a top priority. Better police training on the use of deadly force is essential as well. Far
too may times, we have witnessed unjustifiable police shootings with little or no accountability. We can and must do better.