Last Friday, a 40-year-old unarmed black man named Terence Crutcher was killed by police, after being described as looking like a “bad dude”. If that doesn’t epitomise how being black can quite literally cost you your life, I don’t know what else could.
This particular death really hit home because of the amount of times I have heard friends describe being “scared” of black men; as if they have visceral reaction to their skin colour. While, as we have already discussed on gal-dem, there is a clear difference between the treatment of black people in the US and the UK, some stereotypes are pervasive. Black men are seen as being intimidating, they are jailed more, they are forced to deal with the indignity of stop and search in urban centers time and time again. And, ultimately, they die more due to the crushing hand of the state.
During a recent interview I conducted with Ghanian-British journalist and artistic director, Ekow Eshun, he said how “it seems that black men are at a very peculiar position at the moment, of heightened visibility and vulnerability at the same time… at large still spends time demonising black men, viewing them as a threat, as sexual predators”. This treatment is ultra present in the media, where both black men and black women are afforded a lack of vulnerability, contrarily making them more vulnerable. It’s why, when the next news story hits about the death of a black man, you are likely to see his criminal history disseminated, rather, than like with infamous white rapist Brock Turner, hear about his achievements.
For us, with every hashtag, every news story, every “graphic video”, it really hits home how little the life of a black person can mean. And this apathy is terrifying. Officer Betty Shelby, who fired the shot that fatally wounded Terence Crutcher, is just another white woman in a long line of white people who cross the street when they see a black man; who are unable to tell one of “us” apart from the other; who struggle with the idea that we can be anything but criminal.
Apparently it doesn’t matter if you’re a 12-year old child (Tamir Rice), if you were attempting to show police your ID with your hands up (Amadou Diallo), if you were pulled over for failing to signal (Sandra Bland) or were walking away from police with your hands up (Terence Crutcher). You can still become a victim because of the negative way we are percieved by many of the people in the western world.
For me personally, and plenty of other black people I’m sure, every murder is more than a fleeting news story; though a stranger, you are linked by your blackness and the fear, disdain and violence it can evoke in others. As a result, with every death, I find myself grieving someone whose death sentence lay in their skin colour.
As put by Crutcher’s sister, Tiffany, in a video published by Tulsa World, “You all want to know who that big ‘bad dude’ was,” she said. “That big ‘bad dude’ was my twin brother. That big ‘bad dude’ was a father. That big ‘bad dude’ was a son. That big ‘bad dude’ was enrolled at Tulsa Community College — just wanting to make us proud. That big ‘bad dude’ loved God. That big ‘bad dude’ was at church singing, with all his flaws, every week.”
Rest in power. #blacklivesmatter