NEW YORK CITY — Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of Terence Crutcher, a black man gunned down by Tulsa, Oklahoma, police Officer Betty Shelby in September, said she and her family have a singular focus as the officer goes to trial in early May.
"Our mission is to, on May 8, as we start this trial, make sure we get a conviction in Tulsa, Oklahoma," Crutcher said Wednesday during on a panel of families touched by police and vigilante violence, at the civil rights convention of the National Action Network convened by the Rev. Al Sharpton in Manhattan.
Shelby, who faces a first-degree manslaughter charge, fatally shot the unarmed Crutcher as he stood near his reportedly stranded vehicle on Sept. 16, 2016. The officer has been defiant, stating through her lawyer and in media interviews that Terence Crutcher's actions, caught on video by a police dashcam and a helicopter camera, warranted her use of deadly force.
However, the video footage released by police days after the shooting showed Crutcher with his hands up walking away from officers before Shelby opened fire.
Tiffany Crutcher said she recognizes how rare it is for officers to be charged in shooting, particularly when the victim is black.
"That right there says a lot," Crutcher told the gathering of more than 200 members of NAN, the civil rights group that Sharpton founded. "So we're going to fight for a conviction. We're going to be a voice for the voiceless."
Crutcher was joined on the panel by the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, often referred to collectively as the Mothers of the Movement. Aside from a conviction in Crutcher's case, the panelists urged policing reform and civilian oversight of police departments, amid actions by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to de-emphasize policing reform and ramp up the historically disastrous war on drugs.
Along with Crutcher's sister, the panelists were speaking out ahead the May trials of officers at the center of high-profile shooting cases that were caught on video. In North Charleston, South Carolina, former Officer Michael Slager will face federal trial on May 9 on criminal civil rights charges for shooting Walter Scott in the back as fled an arrest. The first trial of former University Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing, who was charged with voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting the unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose on July 19, 2015, ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. Tensing will face a retrial on May 25.
Panelists Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, and Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo, know too well the pain of not getting justice after the loss of their loved ones. In 2000, the four New York Police Department officers who fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, who was unarmed, were acquitted of second-degree murder charges. In 2008, three NYPD officers who fired 50 shots at Sean Bell, who was also unarmed, were found not guilty on charges that included second-degree manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
"There is no excuse for police brutality and all this killing," Diallo said during the panel. "This needs to stop."
Valerie Bell said the passage of time has not changed her negative feelings about the criminal justice system. "Yes, it's been 10 years and I believe nothing has changed."
It's not easy to become a public figure in the wake of tragedy, Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in 2012 by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, told convention attendees. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in 2013, inadvertently birthing the Black Lives Matter movement. Fulton said she and her fellow panelists continue speaking out about their loved ones because they don't want other families to know what being part of the movement feels like.
"Yesterday it was Trayvon, but tomorrow it could you somebody you do know," she said. "That's why it's important to do something now. Don't wait. I want you guys to stay woke now. I want you guys to participate now."
Benjamin Crump, the Florida civil rights attorney who rose to national prominence representing the family of Trayvon Martin and several other families of police violence victims, moderated the panel. He urged the group of mothers to share positive memories of their loved ones, particularly in the face of character assassination from police and in media.
"I thank God that everyone he met, they loved him," Judy Scott, Walter Scott's mother, said. "He never had an enemy, that I knew of. His children loved their father."