Briefly, On Disbelief: Keith Lamont Scott and Terrence Crutcher
Jonathan Ferrell crashed his car in 2013. Badly injured, he went to the nearest house seeking assistance. The woman in the house called the police instead, insisting that a man was trying to break into her house. When the police arrived, they shot Jonathan Ferrell, and he died. He was guilty of having been injured in a car accident.
This incident occurred in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina. Randall Kerrick is the officer who shot at Ferrell. He shot 12 times, hitting Ferrell 10 times. Of those 12 total shots, 8 were fired after Ferrell was already on the ground, crawling, likely as the result of the combination of the injuries that he sustained from his car accident and the first shots having hit him.
Kerrick’s case went to trial. The jury deadlocked and the prosecutors refused to prosecute him again. It has been a year since Kerrick’s behavior was officially sanctioned by the judicial system.
Keith Lamont Scott was killed in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina yesterday. Although police were in the area searching for a suspect in an unrelated crime, Scott was not involved. What happened at his shooting remains, predictably, up for interpretation. Police say that he had a gun, and that although he did not point it at police (which seems like the sort of detail that might be very important for the telling of this story), he also did not drop it when he had been told to. Scott’s family disputes this version, insisting that he was a disabled man awaiting his son’s school bus, and that he was sitting in his car reading a book.
Even if we are willing to accept the Charlotte Police Department’s version of these events, nobody has explained what was necessarily wrong with Scott getting out of the car with a gun (especially if he did not point the gun at the police), as North Carolina is an open-carry state. Simply possessing a gun is not a crime.
There is currently no publicly available video of Scott’s killing, both because the footage is not often released, and because the officer who shot Scott was not wearing a camera at the time, and because North Carolina’s conservative government does not want footage of this sort to be released to the public, as it leads to things like the public concluding that maybe all police killings are not always justified.
It remains unclear what will happen to Brentley Vinson, the officer who shot Scott, although he is currently on leave. (As the story unfolds it should be noted that various sources are currently reporting that eyewitness accounts insist that the shooter was white; Vinson is black.) The investigation into the killing is ongoing.
Eric Harris was unarmed and fleeing from police in 2013 when he ran into Robert Bates, a frequent donor to Tulsa’s Police Department (TPD) who has been made a Reserve Deputy as a reward for his money. Bates often went on ridealongs with the TPD. When Harris came near, Bates has claimed that he was only trying to use a taser on Harris but mistakenly grabbed his gun instead. The single bullet that Bates fired eventually killed Harris. Police on the scene, who did their very best to excuse Bates having shot Harris (they utilized the same “It was an accident!” defense that was tried after Johannes Mehserle executed Oscar Grant), told a dying Harris that he could ”fuck his breath.” Mercifully, Bates (although not his enablers) ended up going to prison, where he has spent his time insisting that he is the real victim in all this.
Terrence Crutcher was killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma last Friday. His car had broken down and passing officers stopped to assist, apparently, but by the end of their interaction, Crutcher was bleeding out beside his SUV while officers dilly-dallied in providing him medical attention.
If you can believe it, there are predictably competing stories about what exactly happened, and unlike in Keith Lamont Scott’s case, there is video available. In this particular case, there are two separate videos, one from a police cruiser, one from a police helicopter (the pilot of which described Crutcher as a “bad dude” entirely upon the basis that he was black). Crutcher was, perhaps, not in perfect shape right from the outset, as briefly interacted with Betty Shelby, the TPD office who would later kill him, he stuck his hands in air, something she found suspicious.
Crutcher was not armed, nor did he have a weapon in his car, although that has not stopped Shelby’s lawyer from insisting that the officer’s entirely incorrect perception of her own danger justifies Crutcher having lost his life. At least part of the disagreement between the police and those representing Crutcher is whether his car’s windows were open, the implication being that he could not have been reaching into a closed window for a weapon that the police are willing to acknowledge was not, in fact, there. There have also been ugly allegations that Crutcher was high on PCP at the time of his killing, although toxicology remains as of yet unavailable. The TPD have confirmed that there was PCP found in Crutcher’s car. Possessing PCP is not cause for the death penalty in Oklahoma.
It remains unclear what will happen to Shelby, the TPD officer who shot Crutcher to death, although she is currently on leave. Chuck Jordan, the chief of the TPD, has described the videos as “very disturbing and difficult to watch.” That does not seem like an absolutely ringing endorsement of what happened. The investigation into the killing is ongoing.
It is possible to imagine that, in both cases, evidence will emerge that will irrefutably justify these killings. Perhaps Scott not only absolutely had a weapon, but pointed it at police officers. Perhaps Crutcher was not only high on PCP, but an immediate threat to police officers. Perhaps. But even if this is the case, it is entirely understandable why members of both communities would struggle to believe these stories, especially considering what has happened in the recent past in both places. It is a monumental task to repair trust lost in situations like Ferrell’s and Harris’s, particularly if that trust was never particularly strong to begin with.
And that is before any attempt to properly understand numbers that clear show that African-Americans are disproportionately victimized by the police. This is not a he-said, she-said situation, nor is it debatable. Police forces deal differently with African-American populations than they do with white ones. That will be true whether or not what happened to Scott and Crutcher ends up being systemically explained away.
But before we finish, it should be noted that stories like this are not helping either, especially as examples of them continue to pile up:
Back To North Carolina
Back In July, police in the North Carolina somehow managed not to execute William Bruce Ray. He was shooting at them with a gun. And when that gun was taken away from him, he started shooting at them with another gun. He is currently not gut-shot, not bleeding out on the pavement, and is, in fact, alive.
William Bruce Ray is white.