Once again legal decisions have come back and in the end, there is no justice for two unarmed Black men shot to death by police officers. The failures came at the federal level and at the local level. So Blacks cannot count on the federal government to protect their rights, nor can they count on local prosecutors to protect them from police officers who take lives under some of the worst circumstances.
The Justice Dept. decided March 1 that there was not sufficient evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges against a former White female police officer for the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla., in September 2016.
Betty Shelby, who was working for the Tulsa police department, won’t face any charges. U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said the investigation was closed. “The Department of Justice devoted significant resources to this investigation to ensure that a thorough review was undertaken. Attorneys from both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office worked closely with the FBI to examine the evidence and review applicable law,” Mr. Shores said in a statement. Prosecutors were unable to find Off. Shelby willfully violated federal law and showed “deliberate and specific intent” to do something illegal, he said.
For a second time, the officer was essentially found not guilty of anything in the fatal shooting of a man holding his hands above his head when killed. The officer’s defense was an old one: She feared for her life, the Black man didn’t obey her commands and she thought he was going for a gun.
“We’re disappointed, but unfortunately we’re not surprised,” said Crutcher family lawyer Demario Solomon-Simmons. “The number one reason is that the system is set up to protect officers like Betty Shelby. The standard (of proof) is so high, it’s the highest standard in the legal system, to prove that someone willfully and intentionally violated someone else’s civil rights,” the lawyer told the media.
The encounter started, not because of a call for wrongdoing, but because the victim’s car broke down. At the time of the shooting, his car windows were rolled up and Mr. Crutcher could not have been reaching into the vehicle, said his attorney at the time.
Police helicopter video captured someone calling Mr. Crutcher a “bad dude” before anything happened.
In Sacramento, Calif., officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet acted lawfully when shooting unarmed Stephon Clark, 22, seven times, according to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Ms. Schubert said March 2 that the reactions of the officers and their statements back the cops’ contention that they thought the young father had a gun.
He had a cellphone and was in his grandparents backyard when shot to death.
District Attorney Schubert enraged many by going into the victim’s background and asserting Stephon was facing potential jail time for domestic violence days before the shooting, researched suicide websites and had a tranquilizer and other drugs in his system when killed. She also insisted Stephon broke three vehicle windows and a sliding glass patio door. These incidents led to the call for police officers on the scene.
The mother of Stephon’s children and his family blasted the district attorney for contentions that had nothing to do with cops shooting him to death. “Whatever his character is or his actions prior to those officers gunning him down, is no one’s business,” said Stephon Clark’s mother, SeQuette. “It’s not justification. That’s not a permit to kill him,” she told the media. The officers knew nothing of those things when they shot him, added Stephon’s loved ones.
Once again there have been calls for changing policies and state legislation is under consideration in California that would only “allow police to use deadly force only if there is no reasonable alternative, including non-lethal force or efforts to calm the situation,” the Associated Press reported.
A $20 million wrongful death suit against the officers involved and the city of Sacramento on behalf of Stephon’s two sons, parents and grandparents is pending. Family lawyers also say a second autopsy found the young man was shot seven times from behind.
“Sacramento police noted that they have not yet decided if the officers broke any department policies. They and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the department has since increased training, limited foot pursuits like those in the Clark case, and committed to quickly releasing videos of officer-involved shootings. Regardless of whether officers acted legally, Steinberg said, ‘the outcome was wrong–he should not have died,’ ” according to the Associated Press.
In incident after incident, there is often a public mea culpa, an acknowledgment of fault or error, but no accountability follows the admission. There is talk of reform but nothing ever happens that says police officers must be held accountable. It is undeniable that incidents of fatal police shootings of unarmed people are most likely to involve Blacks, Native Americans and Latinos. The record does not show failures across racial and economic lines, which says that problem is inextricably tied to race and income. The refusal to admit this reality and the refusal to discipline police officers serving as shock troops for an inherently racist nation does not portend well for America.
These shootings feed a seething anger and pain that can only result in an eventual explosion. When that time comes, people in the streets will not be driven by reason or logic. They will be driven by a kind of madness that comes from being deprived of justice. If America wants to avoid this explosion, she must act with justice and in ways she never has in the history of this nation.