Sports

Athlete protests don’t stop because the killings don’t — Tulsa just the latest example

Police release video of fatal shooting of unarmed Oklahoma man

The Tulsa Police Department released video showing the incident that ended with an officer shooting and killing Terence Crutcher. Crutcher, 40, refused orders at the scene, according to police. Police said one officer fired a stun gun and another
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The Tulsa Police Department released video showing the incident that ended with an officer shooting and killing Terence Crutcher. Crutcher, 40, refused orders at the scene, according to police. Police said one officer fired a stun gun and another

An open-minded, liberal-leaning friend said this to me the other day as we discussed athlete activism and protests involving the national anthem:

“I get the cause, for sure. But hasn’t the point been made? Why keep making it over and over?”

Hers was a rhetorical question, but the answer keeps coming. Different cities. Different victims. Same story. Unarmed black men being needlessly shot and killed by police.

The answer is that it hasn’t stopped — Tulsa just the latest example.

The answer is that, sometimes, to be heard, you have to shout. Sometimes, to be heard, you have to repeat yourself.

The irony is that the people who think these anthem protests should have run their course by now and the people outraged into action sometimes use the same words to express those feelings:

Enough is enough.

The difference is, one side says it as an exasperated plea that the sideline kneeling and raised fists during The Star-Spangled Banner should stop — sometimes mistaking it as un-American behavior when what it is is a call for a better America.

The other side says those three words as a frustrated demand that the unjustified killings stop first.

Tulsa is the latest seat of this national outrage that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and more recently to the Colin Kaepernick-inspired show of anger and solidarity by athletes. Does anyone believe Tulsa will be the last? What city will be the next to remind us that racial profiling and prejudice are alive and well in the United States of America in 2016?

“This killing has to stop please,” Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Teammate Jermon Bushrod shared via Twitter a photo of the dead man lying beside his car, noting the man’s hands were still above his head as he lay on the asphalt after being Tasered and then shot.

Four other Dolphins teammates knelt during the national anthem at a recent game to protest, and this was before the shooting in Tulsa. Expect more demonstrations this Sunday before the Dolphins’ home opener vs. Cleveland and elsewhere around the NFL. The protests also are seeping into other sports, including on the U.S. women’s soccer team. NBA players have said they’ll get involved, too. Athletes have powerful voices and they are using them for good, for change.

You wonder why the protests continue? This is why:

Officer Betty Shelby fatally shot Terence Crutcher, 40, a father of four, shortly before 8 p.m. Friday as he stood beside his car with both arms raised in the “don’t shoot” manner. His car had broken down on his way home from attending a music appreciation class at Tulsa Community College, according to his family. The officer’s lawyer says his client believed the unarmed man was behaving erratically and may have been under the influence of PCP. The police roadside video shows no apparent indication of that. From the sky, a police officer in a helicopter can be heard saying what seems textbook racial profiling: “Looks like a bad dude, too. Could be on something.”

Tuesday afternoon, police officials said a vial of PCP was found in Crutcher’s vehicle. Hmm. We’ll see what the autopsy shows. For now: Hmm. But even if he was on something, does that justify fatally shooting an unarmed man in a tableau that saw multiple police cars at the scene? When deaths like this one pile up one after the other, unequivocal benefit of doubt to the police can be increasingly tough to give.

So players keep taking a knee because unarmed black men seem to keep taking a bullet.

So players keep taking a knee because unarmed black men seem to keep taking a bullet.

In this case, Officer Shelby has been placed on administrative leave, the local district attorney’s office is investigating whether the shooting was justified, and the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation as well. The usual stuff. But can the public trust that justice will be done? That a system that needs fixing will be fixed? That there won’t be a next city where an unarmed person’s death seems so unnecessary?

The victims are never stars, or names you know.

Professional athletes are helping to bring light to their stories.

It is fitting in a way that Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback, who is of mixed race, began this athlete movement, because of course this should not be just a black cause; it should be an American cause. Shouldn’t all of us be indignant over unarmed people being killed where race playing a role seems undeniable? That includes police officers themselves, that vast majority of whom are good and fair — but all of them put in a terrible spot because of the actions of a relative few. That’s the thing about police work. It’s one of those occupations too important to afford even 1 percent bad cops. The world can get by with bad car salesmen or bad coaches. But when the commercial airline pilot flies drunk or the cop approaching a car at a traffic stop treats blacks differently, deaths can occur.

My friend said of the protests, “Hasn’t the point been made? Why keep making it over and over?”

It is because, all across the country, Tulsa seems to keep happening, over and over and over.

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