Law enforcement officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are promising justice in the wake of a police shooting there that killed an unarmed black motorist. But Friday's shooting of Terence Crutcher may have reopened months-old wounds both locally and nationally following a string of police killings of unarmed black people.
“I want to assure our community, and I want to assure all of you and people across the nation who are going to be looking at this, we will achieve justice, period,” Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Monday of the shooting that was prompted in part by Crutcher's request for help after his SUV broke down on the street.
The shooting comes come two months after a ranking officer with the Tulsa police department wrote an op-ed in which he characterized police as being "at war" with certain members of the public they are charged with serving. The officer was responding to this past summer's shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Those shootings were apparently prompted by police shootings of unarmed black men in both Baton Rouge and Minnesota.
"We are at war!" Tulsa Police Major Travis Yates wrote July 17 for an editorial titled, "This Is War" in Law Officer, an online editorial platform for members of law enforcement. "All we have heard for the last few years is how cops are racist and our training isn’t right and we don’t need basic equipment like riot gear, helmets and armored vehicles and we all need to ‘soften’ our uniforms. This is all pushed down our throats even more every time we have to use deadly force against individuals attacking us."
Yates later apologized for his op-ed during a community meeting on how to improve police relations. Sgt. Shane Tuell called the editorial "inappropriate" and Yates was ultimately transferred to another division instead of resigning, something that a community organization had demanded.
But Friday's shooting placed a spotlight back on the very issues Yates was seemingly defending in the editorial and prompted protests by members of the Black Lives Matter, the social justice movement that also demonstrated in Tulsa this summer against "racist police," Tulsa World reported in July.
"He wasn't posing a threat, and I believe from what I saw, he was an innocent man," local pastor Mareo Johnson told local news outlet NewsOn6 Monday about the shooting of Crutcher.
Video footage from Friday's shooting of Crutcher shows he was surrounded by police while raising his hands before he was shot with a Taser and then a gun at close range from the service weapon of Officer Betty Shelby. There were no immediate criminal charges filed against any of the officers involved, something the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma called for Tuesday when it characterized the shooting a "murder."
Tulsa is a city of about 639,000 people with a nearly 11 percent population of African-Americans, according to Census Bureau data.