As with so many fatal police shootings that have gripped the nation’s attention in recent years, there is much we do not know and may never know, about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa.
Videos from at least some sources have been released in each case, but leave critical questions unanswered and as with most such videos, what is shown is subject to interpretation. What we do know is that Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer who fatally shot Crutcher, is facing first-degree manslaughter charges. And though the investigation into Crutcher’s death continues, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney has said that the officer who fatally shot him, Brentley Vinson, was “absolutely not being charged by me at this point.”
Almost regardless of what facts may come to light in each case, there is a sense among many that these deaths were avoidable. Explicit policing policies, such as stop-and-frisk and overly aggressive traffic enforcement, fall more heavily on communities of color and increase a person of color’s chances of being forced to interact with law enforcement. Tracey Mears, a professor of law at Yale, who is among the speakers tomorrow on a conference call ACS is hosting on police use of force, asserts that “[t]here is evidence strongly indicating that policing in that way creates distrust between members of the community who are often disproportionately stopped this way and the police, in a way that is actually inimical to the goals of crime control.” In addition, implicit bias, which the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing acknowledged “is a widespread [problem] that arises from history, from culture and from racial inequalities that still pervade our society and are especially salient in the context of criminal justice,” can lead police to perceive a Black person as more dangerous than they would a white person in a similar situation. When you combine over-policing and implicit bias, along with other factors, they create a fatal recipe that increases the chance that police will use force and often lethal force, in circumstances that could have been resolved through de-escalation strategies. This, in turn, has contributed to the deaths of 305 Black people in 2015 and 195 deaths already this year at the hands of police—more than twice the rate of white deaths, per capita.