Did you know that in America one out of every three black people killed by police are identified as unarmed? It’s been two weeks since police officer Betty Shelby fatally shot a black and unarmed man named Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla. Shortly thereafter, Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter, a surprising move as almost none of the police officers who have shot and killed unarmed black men in the past few years were charged with a felony. Holding Shelby accountable for her actions through a felony charge was a small step toward achieving justice for victims of police violence. If she is convicted, her sentance could range from four years to life.
Does this charge signify progress when there is still so much police brutality towards people of color? Although Shelby’s charge does mark a step in the right direction, she remains one of the few police officers charged for shooting an innocent black citizen. According to Mapping Police Violence, police killed 102 black people in 2015 and only 10 of those officers were criminally charged. This level of brutality from the very officials who are paid to protect citizens shows just how serious the issue of racism is in America.
On Friday, Sept. 30, Officer Shelby appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. According to Shelby, she feared for her life after Crutcher allegedly moved his hand in the direction of his car. She claimed that she unreasonably reacted to his movement and her own fear. Shelby claimed that the death of Crutcher is not her fault, as it never is in cases of police violence. Racism prevailed again in this situation, as white police officers consistently racially profile black people, viewing them as a threat both personally and to the community. The message that the Tulsa shooting conveys is that there is a bias among white police officers which makes them act irrationally. This is exemplified through the fact that an unarmed black person is three times more likely to be shot than a white man. Why do United States police keep killing unarmed black people?
Shelby’s charge of manslaughter is an important, although small, sign of progress. There is still infinitely more to do. There must be more efforts to educate society about racial bias, so that more people recognize the fact that black lives do matter.
Some critics have argued that Shelby was only charged because she is a woman, shifting the narrative to one about gender inequality. This interpretation of Crutcher’s death undermines the fact that this was clearly a racially motivated shooting. No, she wasn’t charged because she is a woman. She was charged because the justice system has finally acknowledged that it is time to redefine police brutality against people of color in America.
Even as Shelby goes to court, an unarmed black man named Alfred Olango was fatally shot by police in a San Diego suburb. Police fired four shots when Olango quickly withdrew an object from his pocket. The object turned out to be an electronic smoking device.
If racism continues to play such a large role in the criminal justice system while the American public remains a passive bystander, white cops will continue to kill innocent black people.
Ariel Alves ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Dili, East Timor. His major is undecided.