In the wake of yet another officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black man, Tulsa schoolteachers were tasked with leading discussions with their young students about the death of their classmate's father. One teacher's post about Terence Crutcher has gone viral, because it puts the situation in a perspective many may not have considered: that of the children, particularly black children, who are growing up in a world where shootings like this are increasingly common.
Crutcher was fatally shot last Friday by Officer Betty Shelby as he stood in the street, arms raised. The incident was caught on video from multiple angles. Through her attorney, Scott Wood, Shelby asserted that she encountered an SUV stopped in a middle of the road at about 7:30 on Friday night, and was then approached by Crutcher, according to CNN. She claims he didn't respond to her questions or commands, but put his hands in the air, "which she thought was a little bit strange under the circumstances," according to Wood. Shelby then drew her gun, and as Crutcher approached his vehicle and appeared to begin to lower his hands, shot him in the chest. She claimed that Crutcher was reaching through the car window, possibly for a weapon. Crutcher family attorney Benjamin Crump produced photographic evidence that the window was closed. Romper reached out to Wood for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
On Wednesday, Rebecca Lee posted on Facebook:
Today at school, our staff decided we needed to press pause and create a space for kids to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the killing of Mr. Crutcher. I was part of facilitating three small group discussions throughout the day: a fifth grade group, a sixth grade group, and a seventh/eighth grade group. I want to share what I experienced with the kids today, because I am convinced that if you can put yourself in the shoes of a child of color in Tulsa right now, you will have a clearer understanding of the crisis we're facing and why we say black lives matter.
She wrote about the 10- and 11-year-olds sobbing and asking questions: "Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? Why does [student] have to live life without a father?" She told her students that she loved them and that they mattered, and they cried harder. When she got to the older students, things changed. They answered their own questions. They were angry. They've become hardened by hearing the same tragic story over and over. The kids could articulate the situation in a way she, as a white woman, never could, she wrote.
I share this story, because Mr. Crutcher's death does not just affect the students at my school. I share this story, because we are creating an identity crisis in all of our black and brown students. (Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human?) We are shaping their world view with blood and bullets, hashtags and viral videos. Is this how we want them to feel? Is this how we want them to think?
I urge you to read the full post on Facebook. Those children's voices need to be heard, and it's necessary and important that people like Mrs. Lee are amplifying them.