Last Friday, the sleepy evening- sun hung gently in the Tulsa, Oklahoma sky as Terence Crutcher left his music appreciation class at Tulsa Community College.
It’s hard to know what Crutcher was thinking about in the minutes before police sent a bullet through his lung for asking for help.
Maybe his heart warmed fondly as he thought about celebrating the 40th birthday party he shared with his twin sister last month. Maybe it was his promise to “make his family proud” by finishing his college degree or the choir he sang with at church each Sunday.
Not a single aspect of his humanity would matter that night, though. As he drove home from class, his car sputtered and began to stall, and like anyone would do, he got out of his vehicle to check out what was going on.
Unbeknownst to him, a driver on the highway next to him would assume danger from his innocent personhood due to the color of his skin, calling 911 to alert local officials of a man “fleeing his vehicle.”
Minutes later, four police officers on the ground and one in the sky via helicopter would surround him. One officer called him a “big bad dude” for walking in slow, gentle movements towards them with his raised hands, officers contrasting his empty fingers with raised guns.
Crutcher began to move his empty hands towards the vehicle, and in an ugly, menacing dance, the hands of the officers released lethal bullets into his chest, and the empty, unarmed hands that once held his children, the gentle hand of his sister and turned the pages of a promising textbook went cold.
If you’re looking for a “perfect victim,” Crutcher isn’t him; he had a criminal record with multiple arrests to his name. But that doesn’t matter, not one single iota. Not a single firearm was found on his person or in his vehicle that day, nor any paraphernalia that would warrant probable cause to assume his guilt. The only crime he committed on the night he was killed was being a large, black man whose car broke down.
You don’t have to share the color of Crutcher’s skin to feel outrage for the loss of innocent life, or angry at the flag that protects some folks’ civil liberties and not others. It is not unpatriotic to want your country to be better to people, and by better, I mean not kill them for doing nothing to deserve it.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee instead of saluting the flag that has failed to value the lives of people of color across the nation, I would argue that his bravery is exactly what our nation needs. And when high school football players across the nation have followed suit, risking their safety and social status, we should not be deeming their actions trivial and their hearts anti-American, but taking a knee with them.
I don’t know what is patriotic about seeing our fellow citizen’s life as unrelated to our own. I am not sure what is honorable in an unfaltering loyalty to a government, or holding such reverence for the romanticized idea that is America, that it stalls us from progress.
We are a nation founded by rebels, by folks who found imperfection in the Union Jack and wanted to create a way of life that valued the pursuit of happiness of each person.
Because our nation has historically limited this pursuit to a select few, it is noble for risk takers like Kaepernick to hold our Founding Fathers accountable.
It is the very essence of patriotism to work for a better America. My American dream, like Dr. King’s, is for my children to live in a nation where all of us will be judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin. Terence Crutcher isn’t here to do so, but today, I take a knee for him.