I’ve watched too many black people die. I know this because when I watched the footage of Officer Betty Shelby fatally shooting Terence Crutcher, what I saw failed to shock me. When I saw Crutcher’s body plummet to the ground, I felt great sadness. And then I paired what I'd witnessed with the image of Philando Castile bleeding to death in the passenger seat of a car, and the image of Alton Sterling sprawled on his back, and the image of Laquan McDonald lying in the street. And then I thought, “This is normal — there’s nothing to see here. Get back to work.”
But, of course, I was wrong. There’s so much about this video that needs to be seen and heard and lodged in our minds. There’s so much that needs to be analyzed and turned in our hands.
For example, this statement about Crutcher: “That looks like a bad dude, too. May be on something.”
This was said by someone in the police helicopter flying overhead, capturing footage of the shooting, and when I heard these words I wondered what they meant. What was the justification for such a statement? Crutcher’s hands were in the air. There was distance between him and the officers in his vicinity. Why was he considered a threat?
We know the answer, but it’s always good to pause and acknowledge the absurdity of it. He was a threat because he was black. His SUV stalled along a street and, instead of someone thinking that Crutcher may be in need of help, someone saw the color of his skin and thought, “This is someone who needs to be put down — done away with, questioned, and arrested, and perhaps even zipped up in a body bag, because he doesn’t belong here. His body is foreign to the peace we have established here for ourselves. His body has far less value than ours.”
I don’t need to remind you, but I will, that this is the mentality of slave owners — the muscle memory of oppression that beats in American hearts still, in quiet and loud ways, and leads the systems of this nation to marginalize those who look different than the most privileged.
I don’t need to remind you, but I will, that our Declaration of Independence states that this land of ours is meant to be a nation of equality, and that defiance of this “self-evident” truth — through neglect, and enslavement, and continued harm — is this nation’s first and greatest sin.
I have watched Crutcher’s final moments numerous times. I have reminded myself of the injustice of such an event, a senseless killing, and reminded myself of what this incident means for me as a black man in America. And yet what I find most shocking about the video still isn’t how Crutcher died. Rather, it’s how, in his final minutes, he lived.
There is a moment when he begins to walk away from the police. His hands are still in the air, in submission, but his feet are in motion. His SUV is nearby and he’s moving toward what’s his.
“May be on something,” the person in the helicopter says about Crutcher, and they’re right. Crutcher is on something. He’s on his way to freedom.
I don’t need to remind you, but I will, how unjust it is that walking away from life, toward death, was the only way Crutcher could reach the liberation he and so many others deserve.