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US cop kills African-American, recorded on two video cameras

Damning evidence against US cops in recent fatal encounter with African American. Photograph: (Getty)

WION Delhi Sep 21, 2016, 01.17 PM (IST) Jeff Halperin

In the recent fatal encounter between a US police officer and an African-American man, the evidence against the police is very damning. Footage from later-released two police cameras majorly contradicts the initial claims made by the Tulsa Police Department. A full investigation has been promised, but here is what's known so far.

Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old pastor and a father of four, was driving home from a music appreciation class at Tulsa Community College when his car stalled. His car was idling the centre line, the driver's door was open. Betty Shelby was the first officer on the scene. This was 7:40 pm, Friday, September 16. Officer Shelby had been dispatched for a completely separate call, and just happened to come upon the stalled vehicle.

Officer Shelby is a decorated officer hired in 2011 after working in the county sherrif's office for four years. She is a field trainer and is married to another officer. She has twice been accused of using excessive force (both times were reportedly determined to be unfounded).

Officer Shelby did not turn on her siren, so her dash cam wasn't activated. There is no footage of the first two minutes of her encounter with Crutcher. But she called for back up, claiming Crutcher "never makes any response" to her. The dashcam footage from this second police car, as well as from a police helicopter flying above, is what shows Crutcher had his hands up and never made any sudden movements in the moments leading up to his death.

[Warning: this video is graphic ]

Four officers are on the scene. One of the back up officers, Tyler Turnbough, deploys his Taser. Right at the same time, Officer Shelby fires what is the fatal shot into his chest, and Crutcher collapses in a pool of blood.

The police and the Crutcher family's attorney issued contrasting claims about what occured, and also about some of the facts colouring the interpretation of the incident. ?

The police initially claimed that Crutcher had been reaching into his car, against police orders. But the family's attorney has since held a press conference showing a zoom-in from the police cam that shows blood on the driver's window, which he says proves that the window of the car was closed when the fatal shot was fired. One eyewitness who spoke to Fox 23 in Tulsa contradicts the police's narrative entirely. The video seems to support this. 

Crutcher was unarmed, police found no weapon inside his car. It's worth repeating: Crutcher was not even suspected of a crime. His car had simply stalled when police happened to pass him. Yet these police killed him.

Overheard from the police helicopter is audio indicating Crutcher was not a threat. "He's got his hands up there for now," said the officer, who pretty incredibly is believed to be the husband of Officer Shelby. He is then recorded saying what will undermine his wife's near-future statement: "This guy is walking and following commands." Despite Crutcher's evident compliance, an unknown officer in the same helicopter is soon heard saying: "That looks like a bad dude."

How is it that one cop saw a man obeying police, while the other, looking at the exact same person, saw an apparent threat? Terence Crutcher was a pastor and father of four, with his hands and fingers in the air. But one cop, from the distance of a helicopter flying overhead, seemed to just see a physically large, black man and deemed him "bad". 

From the police side, Officer Shelby claims to have believed that Crutcher was high on PCP, or angel dust, a drug that can make users aggressive. She had recently undergone drug-training recognition, and believed he was acting erratically, her attorney told the Tulsa World. ABC reports that Shelby claims to have believed that she thought Crutcher was attempting to retrieve a weapon when she thought he was reaching into the car. In an interview with homicide detectives, her lawyer relates that Officer Shelby said, "I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then." 

But, again, the video shows a compliant man with his hands up. Also, Crutcher couldn't have been reaching in the car if the window was up. Maybe Officer Shelby's memory was foggy because this was surely a rattling experience, or maybe she was consciously trying to change the narrative so the killing appears to have mitigating circumstances. 

It's worth repeating: Crutcher was not even suspected of a crime. His car had simply stalled when police happened to pass him. Yet these police killed him.

Tulsa Police sgt Dave Walker said the cops found a vial of PCP inside the car, but declined to say where in the car it was found, and did not determine whether or not Crutcher was under the influence of it. Toxicology reports have not confirmed what is even in the vial. "If they did find it," said Tiffany Crutcher, Terence's twin sister, "it was after he was shot and murdered." She added that discovering drugs is not justification for using lethal force. His car stalled; police had no reason to search his car, let alone shoot and kill him.

Local, state and federal investigators will run an investigation, and as per protocol officer Shelby is on paid administrative leave. But an unarmed man accused of no crime was killed, and the discrepency between the initial police accounting of the incident with the later released video and physical evidence appears impossible to reconcile. 

But it's wrong to think that evidence this strong against the police will fundamentally change mainstream American opinion.   

Protests to police killing

African Americans have protested against police brutality for decades, but, for some people, smartphones and police camera documentation has made what once seemed impossible to believe now impossible to deny. But, to put it lightly, this is not true for everyone. 

Probably the most high-profile protest of African American deaths at the hands of police apart from the Black Lives Matter movement is that of Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback who since the football pre-season has refused to stand up for the singing of the American national anthem. He has sat down or taken a knee instead. 

Colin Kaepernick kneels in protest during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. He is joined here by teammate Eric Reid.

He has received support on social media, and from fellow NFL players and from other athletes. But more than galvanising, Kaepernick has received hate mail, death threats, and boos from thousands everytime he touches the football. This is just the start. In Miami, the union that represents the Sherrif's office called on the department to stop providing Miami Dolphin players security detail, after four Dolphin players knelt during the anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick. Several NFL executives call Kaepernick a traitor, and reportedly hate him even more than a player who is currently in jail for plotting to murder his girlfriend. This protest has apparently put his professional career in jeopardy.

Kaepernick justified his protest thusly: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Since Kaepernick began protesting one month ago, at least 16 African American men have been killed with encounters police, including Crutcher.

Why do so many value an American song more than American lives? Why is kneeling during a song a bigger outrage than actual people dying?

NFL Super Bowl champion Richard Sherman refused to answer questions at a press conference Wednesday evening, and instead explained Kaepernick's stand:

It might seem puzzling that there's such mass fury directed at a black man's peaceful, non-disrupive protest against innocent Americans killed by officials who are sworn to protect them. Kaepernick's gesture was so quiet and inconspicuous nobody even noticed it for weeks. Anyway, most fans use the singing of the national anthem at football games as a time to piss or buy beer. 

But racism isn't sensible. Neither is the automatic connection many make between the national anthem and the military, rather than a vast range of other American values or qualities. The hysterically hostile reaction to Kaepernick's protest makes as much sense as the police officer who from a helicopter saw a "bad dude", and as much sense as killing this perfectly innocent man. 

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