Terrence Crutcher, Officer Shelby, and Me
After tragedies such as the recent fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher by Officer Betty Shelby I want to scream out to my white brothers and sisters. White people, we need to wake up! We are the ones propping up these systems of injustice no matter how loving, kind, and charitable we are (or think we are).
I’d prefer to focus on other people and stop there. However, I have to acknowledge my own biases as a white woman—things that are difficult to admit to myself much less write about in a blog.
Do we really need one more blog from a good-hearted white person processing her own racism? We already take up too much space as it is. This is true, but if I’m honest that’s not the real reason I don’t want to share this blog. I’m scared if I reveal these parts of myself I’ll be seen as just another racist white person. I want to be seen as the “woke” white person and leave it at that.
Anyone who knows me well knows how deeply I grieve the racial injustice in our country. And I don’t mean I’m just sympathetic, I mean I grieve from the core of my being. It was no different when the video of Terence Crutcher’s death hit the news. But I began to realize overwhelming grief wasn’t my only reaction.
I didn’t notice this at first, but Officer Betty Shelby was immediately attended to by her fellow officers after she shot Mr. Crutcher. She was being cared for while the man she shot was dying in the street.
Think about that for a moment.
I was horrified, grieved, and angry. But I also realized I, too, wanted to comfort Officer Shelby. She seemed rattled by what happened and I felt pity, fear, and concern for her.
Some of you may think my response was just a good Christian response of love and compassion.
My reaction was not driven by love. It was driven by self-protection.
Of all the people involved in this horrific tragedy, Officer Shelby is the one I can relate to the most. We are both white woman who have held positions of power in society. I’m driven by my desire to help people. Maybe that’s what motivated her to become a cop. I can also imagine her feeling terrified after she shot Mr. Crutcher and immediately justifying her actions to herself. I know I would have.
Do I know if she felt any of this? No. I’m projecting this onto her because I feel like I can relate to her. That’s not to say I am unable to relate to or empathize beyond my own experience, I simply mean she is the easiest to relate to because, on the surface, we share similar demographics and stations in life.
I am the first to call out white folks for being sympathetic to the dangerous realities of being a cop while denying those same realities for people of color. I’ve shared multiple posts on social media about the killing of Terence Crutcher. But I avoided posts specifically about Officer Shelby.
In my little corner of the universe I go hard for racial justice including police brutality. But when the officer holding the gun was someone who looked like me, I pulled back. That’s not love. That’s self-protection.
Although self-protection is not necessarily a bad instinct in and of itself, it takes a problematic turn when we are driven more by fear than love. God is a God of love and that love includes justice. For far too long people who look like me have not been held accountable for the ways in which we have perpetuated and participated in the racism that is deeply embedded in our society. And communities of color continue to pay a very high price for that.
If I want to help dismantle racism I’m going to have to push past the instinct to protect people who seem like me at the expense of those who do not. I have to be willing to hold people in authority accountable, even when I see myself reflected in them.
I don’t know exactly what justice for Mr. Crutcher and his family should look like. But I do know my instinct to shield Officer Shelby from accountability and the weight of responsibility of her chosen profession is what maintains a deadly and oppressive system of injustice.
Tomorrow I’ll go back to doing everything I can to help white folks confront racism. But today (and everyday) I need your help doing that same thing in my own life. Today I mourn with my African American brothers and sisters. I also commit to dismantling the self-protective barriers that white privilege and racism have constructed within me.