Tulsa 911 received a call from a distraught woman who said there was a car sitting in the middle of the road. Officer Betty Shelby was the first on the scene. She ordered the man, Terrence Crutcher, to take his hands out of his pockets. Not only did he take his hands out of his pockets, but he put them in the air; an act officer Shelby considered out of the ordinary. But when you consider that Crutcher is a black man, immediately throwing his hands into the air at the sight of a police officer hardly seems strange. What happens next is all on camera. Crutcher walks towards his car and Shelby fires.
Even Trump seemed to side with Crutcher, saying that Crutcher had done “everything he was supposed to do” and that officer Shelby had “choked,” a sentiment he also expressed after the murder of Philando Castile.
“Was she choking? What happened? […] But maybe people like that, people that choke, people that do that maybe they can’t be doing what they’re doing, okay? They can’t be doing what they’re doing.”
The odds that Shelby will be brought up on criminal charges are slim. On November 12, 1984, Dethorne Graham had a diabetic attack while helping his friend work on his car. His friend drove Graham to the convenience store to buy some orange juice in order to counteract his drop in blood sugar. Seeing that there was a large line, Graham ran quickly out of the store and got back into the vehicle. An officer saw the unusual behavior and arrested Graham, breaking his foot in the process. Graham sued the police department for unlawful use of force.
The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was unanimously decided that as long as an officer had “objective reasonableness” in his use of force, any use of force could be justified. In other words, if an officer can prove that any other officer would have acted the same way, an officer is not liable for use of force.
This is an extremely slippery slope. The Washington-Post points out in its excellent review of officer involved shootings, that since 2005 thousands of people have died at the hands of police officers, but only 54 officers have been brought up on criminal charges. Of those, only a handful have been convicted or have lost an associated civil suit. The “objective reasonableness” standard has been invoked every-time. It even is used in the reverse. Former Weirton, West Virginia officer Stephen Madar was fired for refusing to shoot an armed suspect- preferring instead to keep his cool in a situation he considered suicide-by-cop.
As CATO fellow Jonathan Blanks points out,
As long as the question is whether the cops can piece together vague excuses to justify their fear as being objectively reasonable, particularly in light of the great deference paid [to] the police by the courts and public, there will be no incentive to not kill when the opportunity presents itself.