Shooting Black Men: The Police Narratives which inevitably emerge in the wake of the use of deadly force on black men have become formulaic and quite predictable. This week we watched a black man whose truck broke down on the road be directed toward his vehicle by four police officers. He complied, hands in the air, moving slowly. He made no erratic movement of any kind. The only elevated voices came from the officers responding.
The man, whose name was Terence Crutcher, moved to the side of his vehicle, as directed, surrounded by the four officers. Next thing we see and hear is Mr. Crutcher falling to the ground and a female officer screaming, “shots fired, shots fired!”. Yeah, she should know, she fired them. Let the spin begin.
Hands up, Don’t Shoot! Police Narratives
The details of the play-book used for the exercise of deadly force vary, but there are some common categorical constructs that appear over and over again as justification. Perhaps most common are the following;
- The police officer felt threatened in some way.
- Suspect was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Appearance. That he or she looked “bad” or “menacing” or “suspicious”.
In the killings of Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma and Mr. Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina we witnessed the trotting out of all three of these narrative elements. The videos of both incidents should generate anger. We need to believe our lying eyes rather than listen to the police narratives. What do we see?
Shooting Black Men: The Killing of Terence Crutcher
The Tulsa District Attorney’s Office charged the officer who shot Terence Crutcher with manslaughter and she was arrested. Multiple video cameras documented what transpired and failure to act would have generated a tidal wave of public unrest. But the evidence of the videos didn’t stop the officers involved from trying to roll out the playbook. Crutcher was “on PCP”, he was a “bad dude”, he was reaching into the vehicle window and officers “felt threatened”. Yep, covers all three elements of the play-book.
Betty Shelby, the officer who shot Crutcher, we were told, was a trained “drug recognition expert”, the initial statement read. But PCP? Who does PCP anymore anyway? That bit was right out of a vintage 1980s propaganda clip–the whole PCP-driven perpetrator of super-human capabilities was never founded in fact anyway.
He didn’t have a weapon, the vehicle window wasn’t down and the cam did not corroborate that he reached into the vehicle. Crutcher was surrounded by four officers with drawn weapons and he had his hands in the air, fully complying…and they felt threatened? Coverage by CNN set forth these and other discrepancies in the official police narrative when held up to the video evidence.
Shooting Black Men: The Killing of Keith Lamont Scott
Keith Lamont Scott was shot dead by law enforcement officers in Charlotte, North Carolina. Again, we have video footage–though some of it, the official tracks, are still being withheld from the public. What we do have, however, is footage from two cell phone cameras shot by bystanders, one of them Mr. Scott’s wife. We also have audio.
In the footage shot by Mrs. Lamont we hear her yelling out to police officers, “Don’t you shoot him, don’t you shoot him!” She explains he has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and that he has no weapon. Mr. Lamont’s vehicle is surrounded by at least five police officers. She calls out again that he has no weapon and exhorts them not to shoot. Multiple shots ring out. They shot him, multiple times, fatally. As he lays prostrate on the ground bleeding out–or perhaps already dead–they handcuff him, hands behind his back….because a man shot multiple times in the torso and who is laying on the ground surrounded by five officers still poses a threat. You know, it’s one of those things mere civilians cannot possibly fathom.
A floating “gun” makes its debut. In the video footage we have there’s a shadowy image, purportedly a gun, which police have used as a sketchy justification thus far. The “official” police video is being withheld to protect the public, ostensibly, and the “integrity” of the case. Sure. Well, the man is dead, his wife is devastated and people are rioting in the streets. We venture the proposition that maybe, just maybe the official video doesn’t exculpate the officers and may, in fact, incriminate them.
But by all means let the city melt down in the name of public safety. In the video from Mrs. Lamont there ain’t no gun. Witnesses aver he didn’t have one. Mrs. Lamont advised officers he was unarmed. The shadowy image which some say is a gun is anything but clear….and it floats in position from one feed to the next. Let’s see the GSR test on his hands. Let’s see the full crime scene report. Let’s see the video being withheld.
Here again, the playbook came out. Five armed officers were fearful. He was acting strangely. The police narrative.
The “War on the Police”
Some would have us believe there’s a war on police underway. As is so often the case in our society today, an entirely subjective narrative is cobbled together and circulated. The majority of people never bother to actually check things out for themselves. The sub-textual narrative follows the police playbook and that tells us that they’re just shooting menacing black guys on PCP anyway. Evidence doesn’t matter, apparently, and go ahead, officers, kill as many black guys as you want.
So, let’s take a look at the numbers supporting a ‘war on police” in the United States. As of August 26, 2016 a total of 38 police officers were slain in the line of duty in the United States. The number of civilians who were slain by the police this year currently stands at 708, according to the Washington Post tally, currently updated daily. Now, no one wants to see police officers get killed, but we don’t like seeing unarmed civilians surrounded by a squad of armed officers gunned down in the street, either. The myth that police officers are daily dodging bullets is precisely that, a myth. Members of Law Enforcement deal in evidence and the evidence clearly demonstrates that this widely propagated narrative spoon fed to the public is unsupported.
Evidence is Important and Our Lyin’ Eyes
In May of this year Time Magazine reported the most dangerous professions in the United States and police and sheriffs deputies placed in position fifteen, behind loggers, those in construction and the trades and taxi drivers. Whether in Falcon Heights, Minnesota or Tulsa, Oklahoma the notion that cops are dodging bullets on a daily basis and are therefore justified in walking around with hair-triggers ready to squeeze off a mag whenever and wherever they feel the least bit threatened is unsupported by the evidence.
The problem, it would seem, is we have a lot of trigger happy police officers poised to kill at the slightest sign of what they perceive as a threat. It would be different if we had evidence of an actual war on police, but that evidence just isn’t there.
This is not television. This is not an episode of Law & Order. This is real life and people are, literally, dying every day. The number of fatal shootings is doubly disturbing. When five trained police officers surround a suspect with guns drawn and the outcome is always the use of deadly force it stretches the bounds of reason.
Evidence is important in the realm of public safety and the evidence supports the fears expressed again and again by black people in our society. Yes, we have public safety issues in the United States. One of them is police who over-react and use deadly force when they shouldn’t. It further erodes public safety when the evidence doesn’t match the police narrative and we are told to believe them and not our lyin’ eyes. More of us are leaning toward our lyin’ eyes. We know what we see and we see the unjustified use of deadly force against black men day after day after day.
‘Bad Dudes’ Have Rights: Challenging Problematic Police Narratives
Thugs, people with mugshots, and ex-felons have rights. Armed people have rights (not just armed white people, even though police kill Black people for having weapons in open-carry states). Our cousins who have pictures of guns on Instagram have rights. ‘Bad Dudes’ Have Rights: Challenging Problematic Police Narratives