In the wake of the horrific police shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there are few words that can be said that have not been said so many times before.
“He was unarmed.”
“He was someone’s father. He was someone’s brother. He was someone’s son. He was someone.”
“Experiments show police see blacks as more threatening and dangerous than whites — conscious and subconscious racism.”
“Arrest, convict, and imprison officers who use unnecessary lethal force — commit murder. No more commendations. No more paid leaves. Nothing will change without punishment, without justice.”
“He did not deserve to die. Even those who resist arrest have a right to life — or would in a decent society, anyway.”
“Could not rubber-coated bullets and other nonlethal options save lives? In some countries, the police do not even carry guns.”
All true statements. And of course the justifications from the police are consistent, even if at times outright lies (recall the police fabrications about Walter Scott’s murder):
“We thought he was reaching for a gun.”
“We thought he was a threat to our lives.”
The killing of Crutcher, however, raises a question that should spark critical thinking among fellow whites, a question that encourages healthy skepticism of official police reports, a question that harkens back to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri: How insane, how blind with violent rage, do the police think black people actually are? Let me explain what I mean.
Crutcher was walking toward his vehicle with his hands raised, then reaches toward his car door. He had one officer pointing a gun at his back, another following close behind, and within seconds two more officers were on him. But from police accounts, the officers thought, in that moment, that Crutcher was stupid enough to — what? Lunge into his car, grab a gun off the seat, turn toward the officers, and mow all four of them down? Would Crutcher have thought he could survive such a thing?
But no, Crutcher was just a man with car trouble, with no weapon at his side or in his car.
What of Philando Castile in Minnesota?
Castile, sitting in a car with his girlfriend next to him and his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter in the back seat, with an officer at the window, mere feet away, was supposedly foolish enough to decide to dig for a gun, point it at the officer, and shoot him? As if Castile would have had the time to do such a thing before being shot. How heartless that officer must have viewed Castile, too, if he suspected Castile of trying something so reckless and dangerous with loved ones in the car!
But no, Castile was a man with a conceal carry permit, pulled over because the officer thought he was a thief — because the suspect in a recent robbery nearby was also black. Castile was racially profiled, then killed because an officer thought he was insane enough to reach for a gun and go to war while in a seated position, strapped in a seatbelt, and accompanied by his family.
Likewise, Mike Brown in Ferguson was, in the white imagination, so violent and so thoughtless that after putting some distance between himself and a police officer after they had an altercation, Brown, unarmed, turns around and supposedly rushes toward the armed policeman with the intent of assaulting him! The officer then has no choice but to riddle Brown with bullets.
There are other examples, equally tragic, but the point is obvious. A healthy dose of skepticism is needed when the police offer justifications for their actions (and official accounts of events) because they make assumptions about black rationality — that is, they assume innocent people like Crutcher are going to do the most brash, irrational, suicidal, dangerous thing possible. This belief is unsurprising considering the subconscious prejudices relating to higher aggression (and lower intelligence) in blacks that nearly all white people have, which affect police conduct in many ways, including police killings. The gap between how rational people act (would even the most evil of men run unarmed toward a policeman pointing a gun at him, if he weren’t mentally unwell or suicidal?) and how the police and some whites assume black people will act in moments of tension is indicative of entirely dangerous and delusional anti-black attitudes.
Now true, the police have extremely stressful jobs and will face mentally ill people who act without reason or people wishing to commit “suicide by cop,” but believing that “the police assume everyone is going to behave irrationally and dangerously, they have to” ignores the important reality that unarmed blacks who do not attack police are killed at a rate far out of proportion to the black population, something that cannot be said of similarly acting, murdered whites compared to the white population. In other words, if police treated everyone like a madman — treated them equally — we wouldn’t see disproportionate deaths of nonviolent black people. The police do not treat blacks and whites the same.
When around black people, too many police officers are on high alert when they needn’t be. Their assumptions kill innocent people, and the public is expected to nod agreeably at their justifications, despite the blatant absurdities of the assumptions!
Too many white people drink it up.