Another week, another black man shot and killed by police.
On September 16th, Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man, was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Officer Betty Shelby. She’s the woman in the featured photo, but you might also know her as the cheery white woman the media fed you.
Shelby was charged with manslaughter in the first degree on September 22nd and if she’s found guilty, she can face 4 years to life in prison. Here’s what I think her sentence will be:
-Shelby will get her best picture that displays her heroism and service to our country posted on the news tabloids during a time she may be proven a criminal. I mean, why wouldn’t they?
-News outlets would sacrifice a block of time communicating important information to the public to get her to tell her story to the world. She might even reap the benefits of killing an unarmed black male and become a celebrity.
-Her supporters might raise money to make sure she gets her life back when she gets out of prison. I mean we all make mistakes. One screw up shouldn’t determine the rest of her life, right?
In short, my point is in America, killing a black person for no reason means so little, it even teeters on the line of celebrating the crime. The past events linked above have shown Betty Shelby can even be rewarded for her actions. And I want to be clear: while her privilege as a white woman is a factor (more on that in a second), we need to focus on the value of the black life. The reason these shootings keep happening is because officers are trained–no, not in criminal justice school, not in the Academy-their whole life— to see black men as dangerous and threatening. And they’re not alone. Even black Americans see their own in this light. The difference is police officers have lethal weapons in their hands as they deal with their fears. The reality is, cops are often afraid when they approach a black male. So how long are we going to let them get away for acting on their fears?
Back to Shelby: I have a good feeling she’s running with the ‘I was scared he was reaching into a vehicle without any open doors or windows for a weapon in a vehicle I already searched’ story. For her, that can go a long way. Let’s say she serves her full 4 year sentence. What happens after that? Studies show that a white felon in some situations has a better chance at employment than a black person with a clean record. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets her badge back in some form or fashion. If people see her rosy-cheeked picture and are then told she’s a convicted killer, the response will be ‘Her?! No way!’ or ‘See, you never know who people are.’ If she was a person of color, the dialogue would be very different. She would just be fitting a stereotype and deserve what she gets. Instead, people will wonder how she could’ve survived a life in prison and try to sympathize her losing her life’s work, instead of wondering why she got a second chance. Terence Crutcher didn’t even get a first chance. Even if Shelby faces life in prison, her life will never see the prison she deserves: the prison of having a skin tone that is seen as a threat to the people sworn to protect you.
I’m making a lot of assumptions, but I do believe it’s important to embrace the possible realities and react accordingly. We cannot afford to keep spreading that picture of her in uniform and keep building her image as a nice young lady that deserves your pity and mercy. This kind of attitude is what got people like Brock Turner a slap on the wrist for raping someone behind a dumpster. Our biggest enemy isn’t the act of profiling a black man. It isn’t even the act of killing him. It’s the hearts of people that are so conditioned to belittle black life that they can’t see the historic damage killing us causes. That’s what has and will kill, torture, and maim black lives at every moment. If we let Shelby go scott-free, we embrace these evils as law.