Abby Zimet: White Privilege 101 — How To “Survive” Killing An Unarmed Black Man With His Hands In the Air on Video and Somehow Continue Insisting You’re the Victim
Screenshot from the air. Photo: Mike Simons/Tulsa World
Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher for being a big black guy and then claimed he “caused his own death,” is back – not just free and still in law enforcement, but teaching a course to other cops on “Surviving the Aftermath of a Critical Incident.” In 2016, Shelby shot Crutcher, an unarmed father of four with his hands in the air, as he walked back to his stalled SUV on an empty road. The encounter was filmed both by dashcam and from the air by a police helicopter; in the widely disseminated video, a cop in the helicopter can be heard exclaiming as she approaches Crutcher, “That looks like a bad dude” – under American jurisprudence, clear grounds for execution.
In Shelby’s subsequent trial for first-degree manslaughter, she claimed she thought Crutcher was reaching for a weapon in his car, but prosecutors proved his window was closed. Despite such sketchy details, and the lack of any weapon, and the jury foreman writing that jurors questioned Shelby’s “judgment as a law enforcement officer” and “her ability (as) an officer under pressure,” she was acquitted. She also got $35,000 in back pay, left the Tulsa Police Department and got a shiny new job as a deputy at the Roger’s County Sheriff’s Office. In a 2017 interview, she said Crutcher “caused his own death” by failing to comply fast enough with her order to stop. Or something.
Fast forward to this week, when Shelby brought her state-approved class on “Surviving the Aftermath of a Critical Incident” to the scene of the crime, at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. Its goal, says her attorney, is to teach officers “how to plan, fiscally and mentally, for a critical incident”; he adds that “Betty” will not be paid for the class “and is a faithful public servant.” Shelby says the class offers “enlightenment” to other cops and helps them with “the challenges I faced by sharing some of the skills I used to cope with the stress of my critical incident.”
Those stresses ranged from (brief) loss of pay to the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” wherein “a police officer is victimized by anti-police groups and tried in the court of public opinion,” like being held accountable for murdering people for God’s sake and what’s up with that? Her husband Dave, also a Tulsa cop, takes part in the course as a spouse and “fellow officer having to deal with all of these challenges.” Dave says Betty feels “a lynch mob is after her” and confirms “there were two victims that night.” He should know: He was the guy in the air calling Crutcher “a bad dude.” We imagine they’re very happy together.
Law enforcement officials support Shelby’s class; if it was taught to the community, “it would open (their) eyes to what law enforcement had to endure.” The community, however, begs to differ. In Tulsa, angry residents, activists and Crutcher relatives protested the “tone-deaf” spectacle of a killer cop who beat the system in their midst giving advice to other cops – especially one who never apologized to or acknowledged the Crutcher family. During the protests, people carried signs reading “#BanBetty”; when Shelby sent a message to the family that her presence was about “healing,” State Sen. Regina Goodwin retorted, “The words are real pretty, but the situation is very ugly.”
The Rev. Chris Moore of Fellowship Congregational Church added, “If we’re really serious about healing wounds…then we best get serious about the business of true reconciliation. Truth and reconciliation, for you cannot have one without the other.” One key truth, many charged, is that Shelby has been handed a platform the real victims sorely lack. “Betty Shelby has been rewarded while Terence Crutcher’s children are suffering still,” says Marq Lewis of We the People Oklahoma. “They don’t have anyone going around the state talking about their experiences.”
“Terence had his hands in the air, he was moving slowly and he was not the aggressor,” said Terence’s twin sister Dr. Tiffany Crutcher. “He took his last breath alone, and no one provided first aid.”