TULSA - Nationally-known civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, currently representing the family of Terence Crutcher in pending civil litigation for wrongful death, applauded Tulsa officials for their handling of the case so far.
Crump has also represented the families of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old shot and killed by a community watch member in Florida in 2012, and Michael Brown, killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in a shooting that was later deemed justified.
"I think it's always been happening but because of the advent of technology, we're now getting documentation of it," said Crump about whether he believes there's an increase in stories like Crutcher's. "Many communities of color have complained for years that the police would use excessive force on us, would brutalize us, but everyone would believe the police. But with video now, you get to see it.”
According to Tulsa Police Department records, officers used force 564 times in 2015, with incidents ranging from using a Taser to physical contact to impact weapons.
The City of Tulsa is 15.9 percent African American and 57.9 percent Caucasian, according to TPD's annual report. Of the use of force incidents reported in 2015, 53.8 percent of force incidents involved Caucasian suspects and 36.8 percent involved African American suspects.
Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, also representing Terence Crutcher's family, echoed Crump's sentiments about police relations saying,"This is something that we’ve been dealing with in our community forever.”
Solomon-Simmons said even he fears encounters with police.
“Right now we could be dressed in our suits and have our law licenses and I can tell you that when the police pulls us over, we’re fearful for our lives," he said. "Because we’ve been disrespected, talked down to, humiliated. We just want to get home to our families, and so we have to get into a subservient, docile demeanor, even though we know what our rights are.”
The impact of incidents like the one showing police pointing weapons at Crutcher, who had his hands in the air for a portion of the recordings, is strong and lasting, said the attorneys.
"The psychological trauma that these killings and seeing these videos, what it does to black people and people of color," said Solomon-Simmons, "I don’t think people understand the difficulty to go to work the next day, to interact with your colleagues the next day, to try to stay focused on your job and keep a positive attitude, when you’ve seen another person that looked like you, talks like you, comes from where you come from being killed."
Tulsa officials released 911 call recordings, dispatch recordings, dash camera and helicopter video at a press conference the Monday following Crutcher's fatal shooting on Friday, September 16. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, and Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan vowed transparency and justice, and invited U.S. Attorney Danny C. Williams to launch a Department of Justice Investigation.
Kunzweiler charged Betty Shelby within a week of the incident. Williams' office said on Wednesday it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Crump and Solomon-Simmons said they hope Crutcher's loss and the city's response will lead officials in Tulsa and across the country to examine the criminal justice and legal system for bias, and provide training to address what they call "implicit bias."
They say transparency is just the beginning.
"I think that’s making this conversation where we can have these real conversations and hopefully have some real policy changes," said Solomon-Simmons. "Implicit bias training, body cams mandated, and...we have to have people held accountable so people know that you can’t do this and just get off."
Crump said if Shelby gets due process and the Crutcher family gets due process, and if the community sees equal justice actually works, that Tulsa can be an example for all of America to follow.
"To see ... what has happened in the Terence Crutcher case, as opposed to what’s happening in Charlotte, and now in California where less than transparency, where they have videos but they won’t release them, then Tulsa can be the healing ground, not only for this family, not only for this community, for all of America. And that’s to be applauded," said Crump.
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