On Sept. 16, Terence Crutcher’s SUV broke down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Police arrived. Crutcher did not have a weapon. There is helicopter footage of his hands being in the air.
Yet Crutcher was shot and killed. Manslaughter charges have been brought against the officer responsible for his death. All over our country men and women are continuing to risk their lives merely because of their skin color, facing daily oppression, and we are not even remotely doing what we need to do to change it.
I grew up in Tulsa, and while I have moved around I always end up coming back every few years. Tulsa is where I met my boyfriend. He is from Mississippi. He told me about growing up in a small town there, where crosses are still burned on black residents’ lawns. When he was in high school, white kids would throw sacks of flour through the windshields of black kids’ cars, causing them to crash. He played sports. He was called ‘monkey’, and in certain towns his predominantly black had to have police escorts to and from the field, for their safety. Lynchings still happen in Mississippi. No one talks about it — it’s unpleasant. I suppose all of that prepared him for what happened on one of our first dates.
We were told after being seated that our waitress would be with us shortly. There were only three other tables of people, two waitresses and a man behind the counter. We waited. And waited. Twenty minutes passed, but we were enjoying each other’s company, but then we heard it. The two waitresses talking. The first saying she didn’t want the table with the — and here she used a hateful term for black or dark-skinned person — and the second saying she didn’t either. My face turned bright red. Angry and embarrassed, I suggested we leave. He said patiently that someone would eventually come over. I went up to the man working at the counter and said, “Can you tell our waitress to come to our table? We want to order and she won’t come over.” He replied, “Tell you what, I’ll just take your order, be there in a jiffy.”
The day I found out that Crutcher had been shot and killed, I felt sick. I posted a photo on my Facebook page, but being on Facebook made me feel worse. It seemed like virtually no one cared — on social media or otherwise. Why is our society absolutely obsessed with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce, yet doesn’t care that a fellow citizen was shot in cold blood by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve?
Assumptions were made, and continue to be made, about Terence Crutcher. Why do we feel the need to justify what happened? Crutcher put his hands above his head and never made a threatening gesture toward police.
Although my own encounters with the police have been innocuous, when they have occurred in the company of my boyfriend, of black friends or in predominantly black neighborhoods, they have devolved into harassment and abuse. I’ve been searched for no good reason, told I should be disowned by my family, and repeatedly intimidated. Imagine what more could have happened if I weren’t white.
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There is absolutely white privilege in this country — and we take full advantage of it. If I’m out with my boyfriend I make jokes about how we are going to be followed in stores and I will be more likely to be pulled over. But you know what? Those things are true. They add up. Can you even begin to imagine the stress of what it would be like to endure this harassment daily?
What is happening is not right or just. And it isn’t new. The difference is there are cameras on every phone, dashcams, body cams — so the injustices are being caught on film.
We need to stand together. It shouldn’t have to happen to you for it to matter to you.
• Anne Marie Croft, of North Liberty, writes about race and public health issues.