Reports from the US today tell us that Betty Shelby, a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been charged with manslaughter. And quite rightly so. With yet more harrowing footage from a 'dash cam' (too jolly a name for something that has uncovered such sinister things) and a helicopter show a clearly unarmed man, walking away, and then being shot to death by a police officer. If only this were a one-off. I cannot imagine the sorrow of Terence Crutcher's family, their sense of unbelievable frustration at yet another life being tragically cut short. Never mind the feelings of all black people in the US and the entire world, feeling (yet again) victimised.
One thing really stood out for me in the words of the judge. Apparently, Shelby became "emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted." Now here's a familiar word. Ah yes, a female police officer, being too emotional. No doubt she was on her period or perhaps she was feeling fat that day and decided to take it out on an innocent bystander. The use of the language is pertinent, because it is decidedly feminine, and implies an inability to correctly control herself.
So where are the other convictions? Why weren't officers deemed to be 'emotional' when they shot Demarcus Semer, who was armed with nothing other than his mobile phone? Why couldn't the officers have 'overreacted' when they shot and killed Jeremy McDole, a man sitting in a wheelchair? When lives are being lost, it seems like a trite thing to bring up, but the narrative that is created around these incidents and the use of language to justify or excuse them is part of the problem.
All too often, when the officers are male, the language that is used revolves around things like 'perceived threat' or phrases like 'thought he had a gun.' Each time, the language used depicts the officers as fighting for good, as protectors of the peace, rather than overgrown children who got trigger-happy because the situation all got a bit much for them.
Men are emotional, too. We shouldn't forget that they are subject to different stereotypes to women. They are supposed to be tough, manly, a hero, saving the day. The blame for these murders could just as equally be traced back to idiotic Hollywood portrayals of good guys and bad guys, and the idea that men have to be violent in order to be powerful.
Of course, I would like to see justice for these crimes. Too many police officers have hidden behind 'procedure' in order to basically get away with murder. But the language needs to change too. Why is one of the only people to be convicted for these crimes a woman? Why is she the only one too emotional to handle a difficult situation? It needs to be acknowledged that, in difficult times, men can get just as emotional and overwrought as women. They are just as likely to make ridiculous decisions. And they should be brought to account for them.Suggest a correction