Have you seen #terencecrutcher and #keithscott start to flood your newsfeed? Is it getting hard to keep them all straight in your mind? Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin.
That’s what we do now, right? We watch the videos of innocent black people die because of their perceived threat. We cry out in disbelief. We wonder how this is real, in 2016. We create a hashtag. We fear violent protests. The entire police force is targeted and called corrupt. Politicians weigh in. Black Lives Matter fights Blue Lives Matter again. Eventually we move on. The hashtag appears less and less in our newsfeeds. We hope it gets better. But we also wonder what the next hashtag will be.
#terencecrutcher. #keithscott. These are the new ones.
As with all shootings, the facts are convoluted. There are videos providing evidence, but key details are missing. Often the videos do not have sound or it is muffled or broken. Footage of what led up to the shootings is absent. The truth is, we just don’t know what truly happened. The lack of concrete facts combined with impassioned views on both sides lead us to self-appoint ourselves a jury. We make judgments. We protest. We ally ourselves to the black side or the blue side or we try to support both. We are angry and scared and want it to stop.
Here are the facts that we do know. Terence Crutcher, a black man, was blocking traffic with his broken down car in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The police were called. He was tased and then shot. Keith Scott, a black man, resembled a wanted criminal and was shot because he appeared threatening. Both were pronounced dead at local hospitals. Details after that fall under the “witnesses report” category.
Much like when Michael Brown and Alton Sterling were killed, several witnesses offered their accounts. One person said Crutcher behaved erratically and appeared to be under the influence of something. One police officer asserted that they knew he was not armed, yet another feared he might be reaching for a weapon. Viewing the video, one can speculate that he was not entirely in compliance with the police, as he returned to his car. Police assert Scott had a gun and refused to put it down, despite their orders. His family says he was unarmed, reading a book.
Here’s what I see—what much of America sees. I see Terence Crutcher (under the influence of something or not) with his hands up. I see four armed police officers pointing their guns at him. I see him walk back to his car. I see him shot and fall to the ground. I see him lie there, alone. I do not see anyone attempt to save this unarmed black man’s life.
We do not have a video (or one has yet to surface) of Keith Scott’s death. We only have verbal accounts of what happened.
I do not know why Terence Crutcher walked back to his car. I do not know if he was complying with police officers. I do not know if Keith Scott had a gun or was reading a book. And I firmly believe we should all comply with police officers, who are sworn to uphold the law and keep us safe. I also believe police officers should do what they need to do to protect themselves if threatened.
However. Why does a perception of non-compliance so quickly and without hesitation lead to death? If a person is pointing a weapon at a police officer, putting that officer in imminent danger, then yes, deadly force seems logical. But shooting an unarmed man in the back for running away or resisting? Shooting an unarmed man buckled into his seatbelt in the passenger seat of a car? Shooting an unarmed man as he approached his vehicle? This does not sound like the police I tell my kids to respect and revere. I tell my kids that the police will keep them safe. That firefighters will keep them safe. That their teachers will keep them safe. That I will keep them safe. I willingly put all of us in the same category. Because I believe in the oath and commitment of police officers.
But when I see graphic videos like this, and see the latest hashtags, and watch tear-filled press conferences with families of these men, these fathers, these sons, I find myself struggling. I am struggling to navigate this middle-ground of empathizing with those who are protesting racial injustice and also supporting the police force who put their lives on the line for us daily.
So Colin Kaepernick will continue to take a knee. #blacklivesmatter protesters will continue to march. Uplifting videos of cops doing good things like handing out ice cream and having BBQs with black Americans will continue to flood our newsfeeds—as they should. But sadly, are we just waiting for another hashtag?
I’ll close with this: If you truly believe there is not a problem with racial injustice in this country, please consider these names: Dylann Roof and Robert Dear. These are the names of two white men who killed multiple people and aimed their weapons at police officers. They are cold-blooded murderers, yet they were taken into custody unharmed. Meanwhile black men have been killed for selling cigarettes, selling CDs, apparently having a broken tail-light, playing with a toy gun in the park, looking like another person, and having a broken down car.
This is our America in 2016.