Police shooting of Terence Crutcher may test Tulsa tensions

Nation

GWEN IFILL: There are new calls for a federal investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, raising questions yet again about the relationship between law enforcement and citizens of color.

Forty-year-old Terence Crutcher was killed on Friday when local officers responded to a call of a stalled vehicle in the middle of the road. Police video subsequently showed Crutcher, hands in the air, walking away from the officers before police fired.

Here is some of that video.

MAN: That looks like a bad dude, too.

MAN: I think he may have just been Tasered.

WOMAN: Shots fired!

MAN: We have shots fired. We have one suspect down.

GWEN IFILL: An attorney for the officer said she believed Crutcher was armed and didn't heed instruction. But attorneys for the family say the video proves otherwise, and they believe the officer who shot him, Betty Jo Shelby, should be charged with murder. She is on paid administrative leave.

His twin sister, Tiffany, noted that officers watching at a distance from a helicopter could be heard on tape referring to her brother as a "bad dude."

TIFFANY CRUTCHER, Sister of Terence Crutcher: That big, bad dude was my twin brother. That big, bad dude was a father. That big, bad dude was a son. That big, bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College, just wanting to make us proud.

GWEN IFILL: For the latest on the investigation and the mood in the city of Tulsa, I am joined by Ginnie Graham, columnist for the Tulsa World Newspaper.

Ginnie Graham, The Washington Post keeps a database now in which they say, in the past year, 696 people, 172 of them black men, have been fatally shot by police. In Tulsa, how did this come about?

GINNIE GRAHAM, Tulsa World: This particular incident, some of that is unfolding.

We know that he had a stalled car and that the officer, Betty Shelby, was responding to a different call and came upon him. The problem is, there is some missing video — or not missing video — there was no video leading up to what we now see.

And it's pretty clear that he had his hands up. And you can see other officers responded. Then you had the aerial view. And he was shot. He was Tasered and then shot. And so people are coming to their own conclusions watching the video, and other people have lingering questions about what led up to that, how he responded, and then how the officers responded directly after that, because he was left on the street.

GWEN IFILL: Yes. He was left on the street for some time.

Was there — is there a distinction or a dispute between what the police account of the incident is and what others are saying?

GINNIE GRAHAM: Not so much right now. The police aren't saying too much.

They are launching their own investigation. And they will be returning those results over to the district attorney, who will decide on a charge. But there is also another investigation going on. The police chief had called the Justice Department early on, and the U.S. attorney is looking into this as an independent and parallel investigation to see if there are any federal civil rights violations that occurred.

And so he will be releasing those results at the same time.

GWEN IFILL: We got to see this video relatively quickly, more quickly than we often see in these cases. Do you think what happened in Tulsa with the police rapid response, or relatively rapid response, is the result of what we have seen happen in other cities and other places?

GINNIE GRAHAM: It could be.

There are also efforts throughout the year to talk about race in Tulsa. We have had a dubious history of dealing with race issues. And so for the last decade or two decades, there have been various groups to try to forge relationships in between these tense times.

And so this is going to be a challenge for the city's leaders on how they move forward. But I think the other cities and how they have dealt with that are certainly a caution. But there's also a call for transparency to get the information out quickly, put it out to the public, and then we can make decisions from there on what — if they acted correctly.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about Tulsa's dubious history, you're referring not only to instances where there have been police-involved shootings, but going all the way back to 1921, right?

GINNIE GRAHAM: Exactly.

We had an infamous 1921 race riot, and it burned a section of the city to the ground. And it was the part of the city referred to as Black Wall Street. And for decades, that wound was left to fester. That part of town was never rebuilt. The families were never given any sort of help to rebuild.

And it was only in the 1990s that a commission was established to investigate what happened during that time. And since then, there is the John Hope Reconciliation Center that holds a national forum on race. There are other groups in the city that hold seminars, symposiums, dialogues and talks. But all of that is going to be tested right now, as I said, because, right now, people are upset. They're grieving. They're angry.

And so how the city responds, whether they're going to be straightforward, whether they're going to live up to their promises, that's what's going to determine the relationships from here on out. So, hopefully, our city has learned some lessons on how to heal, how to deal with this in a peaceful, yet justful manner.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and it should be said that, right up until now, we haven't seen riots or unrest or fires or looting, have we?

GINNIE GRAHAM: Not in Tulsa.

And we have had a couple incidents before where, last year, we had our county deputy sheriff, a reserve officer, shot and killed an unarmed black man as well. And our district attorney filed charges in that with a secondary manslaughter conviction.

So, there is some history that our city leaders will do the right thing. And there have been calls from the family and from other leaders to be patient, but yet, you know, keep up the oversight, because protests are more than welcome. Our city — our police chief even said he invites protesters. They came into the press conference.

The hope is that they can remain peaceful and that we can sit down and have this discussion about, you know, how can we be safe on our streets and how can we build trust that people that are living in North Tulsa and all over Tulsa feel safe with the police that are on the streets and find out what happened and to act swiftly.

GWEN IFILL: Ginnie Graham, columnist for the Tulsa World, thank you very much.

GINNIE GRAHAM: Thank you.

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