By Angela Vega
“That looks like a bad dude, too, to be honest,” was the last sentence heard from an Oklahoma police officer before the videotape panned to Terence Crutcher who slumped dead to the ground, according to CBS. With his hands still up, the father of four slowly approached his vehicle after police officers Tyler Turnbough and Betty Shelby followed quickly behind him with weapons raised.
On September 16, Tulsa police received reports of a vehicle blocking the road. What started as a mild and reparable issue quickly turned into manslaughter after Officer Betty Shelby shot Crutcher, who then fell to the ground, arms still in the hands-up position. Information was later released that showed Crutcher had no possession of any weapons, and as judged by the court, was not an immediate threat to Shelby whatsoever.
In the same week, Keith Lamont Scott was shot four times in Charlotte, North Carolina after being mistaken for a different man. Disabled, Scott waited in his car for his son to return from elementary school. The altercation with the police officers led to Scott’s immediate death.
Despite being a number of feet away from the man with his hands up, Officer Shelby claimed that she feared for her life during the altercation.
The release of these videos illustrating the deaths of the two men made it clear that they offered no urgent threat that could justify the fatal shots.
This is all a familiar narrative. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch after walking through his neighborhood in a black hoodie. In 2014, Michael Brown was shot with his hands up in Ferguson, Missouri. Later that year, 12 year old Tamir Rice was killed by Cleveland, Ohio police for holding a toy gun in a playground. Only halfway through the year, The Guardian’s police killings database reported more than 790 people killed in the hands of police, many of whom were mentally ill, unarmed, and/or people of color.
Over and over again, black and brown bodies are demonized and then blamed for their own deaths for the simple reason of being black and brown.
The seemingly unrelated stories at first glance hold several similarities. Brown, Martin, and Rice were all African-American boys who were unarmed and who posed no apparent threats to the police officers who murdered them. But even so, their lives were taken unrightfully and far too soon.
Comfortable or not to admit, the countless numbers of black men, women, and children murdered in the hands of police are direct results of deeply rooted ideas of anti-blackness woven into the very fundamentals of American society and history. As seen through the repeated incidents of police violence, the demonization of black bodies is a recurring factor in countless deaths.
This racial profiling and negative portrayal of black people has resulted in thousands of black and brown deaths. The fundamentals of American ideals have made it so that racist and classist agendas work within our institutions; our schools, workplaces, homes, and now most recently obvious, our police departments.
People of color, primarily black and brown youths, find themselves in tougher situations as institutions put them through intensified disadvantages. According to the U.S. Department of Education more than 40% of low-income schools do not get a fair share of state and local funds. Schools in run-down areas that are less funded, and in turn, have less opportunities for its students, eventually ushering harsher discipline, increased street activity, further discrimination, and consequently, negative tropes regarding the behavior of black and brown people. It is a continued cycle of increased disadvantages for people of color.
By turning a blind eye to these issues, we have accepted institutionalized racism. For far too long, we allowed its contrived and hateful ideas to seep into every one of our communities. The demonization and dehumanization of black bodies has been a pervasive theme in our history.
It has come to a point where these blatant instances of racism and racial profiling can no longer be ignored. New cases and videos of black and brown deaths constantly resurface, desensitizing us to the blatant effects of systemic prejudice and hatred. These stereotypes, along with the further demonization of black people, now pave different paths for black men, women, and children.
The 790 victims of police brutality this year, more or less, were wrongfully kept from continuing their lives. What society fails to forget is that these people are not demons or drug addicts. Every victim was as human as the next. Their only downfall was the system that held up whiteness over blackness. It is time for us to realize that everyone’s lives matter and to treat everyone as the human they are.