Two nights ago, a jury in Tulsa, Oklahoma, found Police Officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty of first-degree manslaughter for the September 2016 roadside killing of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man. The verdict reinforced, once again, that police officers are almost never convicted for killing unarmed African Americans. While every one of these cases is unique, they are all characterized by common features that prevent jurors from reaching an unanimous verdict of guilt.
Frequently, an acquittal comes at the hands of an all-white jury. In most cases, there is no video evidence to challenge an officers’ account. However, in the trial of Officer Shelby, there were three African-American jurors, and there was footage of the shooting that showed Mr. Crutcher with his hands up. Instead, her trial is a textbook example of how jurors almost always accept law enforcement’s account, even when videos and other objective evidence cast doubt on the officer’s credibility. Indeed, jurors will often go out of their way to resolve conflicts in the officers’ narrative while ignoring or minimizing discrepancies.
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