Even though it’s been almost four years since a jury acquitted Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Shelby in the murder of Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old father of four, her twin remembers the trial as if it was yesterday.
“What was especially heartbreaking was hearing her, seeing her, the person who killed my brother. She showed no remorse, ”recalls Tiffany Crutcher.
Terence Crutcher was standing by his car when Tulsa police officers, including Shelby, responded to a call about a broken down vehicle in September 2016. Shelby said she shot Terence in self-defense as he was riding hand in his car. But video of the shooting showed his hands in the air as he approached his vehicle. Shelby has been charged with manslaughter.
“They played the video, they slowed it down,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “We saw the blood and we heard it all. It was my brother’s blood. I had to put my head on my knees, my father had to hold my hand. They did everything to slander my brother. And I ran out of the courtroom, I burst out crying.
She then founded the Terence Crutcher Foundation in honor of her brother to fight police brutality in Tulsa. But the lawsuit still affects the family years later, she said.
“We have to relive it every day we wake up,” she said.
Today, the family of George Floyd endure this new trauma during the trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin. Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, after kneeling at Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last year.
For more than a week, Floyd’s relatives repeatedly listened to the details of his death and watched footage of the last moments of his life. Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, said he walked out of the courtroom because he couldn’t bear to watch the graphic video. Floyd’s brother Philonise recently said it was “heartbreaking” to relive the murder of his brother.
“It was a moving day, sitting there watching my brother tortured to death, screaming for our mother, talking about her children,” said Philonise Floyd. “It was devastating.”
Mental health professionals have in recent years highlighted the emotional and psychological consequences that racist violence can have on black people. Whether it’s videos of police brutality or watching criminal trials panting, the stress of such experiences is well documented. But for families of victims of police violence, emotional stressors are heightened, said Maysa Akbar, diversity manager for the American Psychological Association and author of “Urban Trauma: A Legacy of Racism.”
As the world watches the attempt to bring justice to another person killed by police, Akbar notes that for the family involved, justice in court doesn’t always equate to healing.
“There is going to be a new trauma that will happen and can happen every time the story is told,” she said. “There is a racial trauma that has persisted throughout this situation, from the time of ‘George Floyd death, through’ this whole process. ‘
While black people who observe the affair from afar may experience “vicarious trauma” – the emotional impact of being exposed to the pain of another person – there is a particular fate that belongs only to those closest to them. the victims. Experts have said that relatives of victims of police violence can experience physical and emotional manifestations of trauma, including long-term mental health effects, survivor guilt and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Racial trauma is an emotional injury. It’s absolutely enhanced with families, ”Akbar added. “It will have an impact on how they are going to be able to move forward as a family. No justice will ever justify what happened to George Floyd and the impact it has on the family.
A 2009 study found that ‘post-conflict justice’ efforts such as trials and truth commissions do not necessarily heal clinical psychological trauma like PTSD, and such events can actually leave people feeling hopeless. and worsen their psychological injuries. However, in 2004, a study noted that criminal proceedings may not have a significant negative impact on victims. But the family of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old shot dead by then-constable Roy Oliver in Balch Springs, Texas in 2017, have a different experience.
“It’s never ending,” Odell Edwards, Jordan’s dad, said of the experience. He added that the Chauvin trial was not easy to hear. “It reminds me of so many memories of what I’ve been through. It was difficult during the trial to see the guy who did this to my son. Every day was hard for me. I had trouble sleeping.
Jordan was driving a Chevrolet Impala with two brothers and two of his friends on the night of April 29, 2017. Police responded to a call about a loud house party and saw the car outside. Oliver said he thought the car was going to hit his partner so he shot inside, killing Jordan. Oliver was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“Odell had to relive that over and over again with his family,” family attorney Daryl Washington said of Jordan’s father. “It was really difficult. Talking to Odell, every time there’s a trial or a police shootout, it’s almost like opening old wounds for the family again.
Although Oliver was among the very few police officers to be convicted of murder, Edwards said he didn’t think 15 years was enough for the man who killed his son. And for Tiffany Crutcher, the pain of seeing Shelby nearly absolved of her brother’s murder only adds to the trauma of the event, she said.
“After the ‘not guilty’ verdict, we were all numb. For the jury to say ‘we don’t think she’s flawless’… that was another blow, ”she said. “We thought we were on the path to justice. And after the verdict you see the tears of the grown men, the community and the friends, in the photos you see people on their knees crying because we didn’t get justice.
Akbar said that because “seeking justice does not equate to healing,” it is important that families have access to resources such as therapy and counseling to minimize the emotional burden of criminal trials. She said that such psychological well-being requires an intentional approach and stressed the importance of being in community with others.
“Be part of a grieving group with others who have gone through something similar,” she advised. “The family cannot exclude what is happening in front of them, but there are ways to minimize the impact with psychological help and support.”
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