If we lived in a world where the judicial system always worked in favor of the people, perhaps we would have seen all of the officers that have shot and killed unarmed black people charged in their deaths. But instead, we live in a world where those officers are rarely charged at all. That's part of what makes the decision to charge Officer Betty Shelby in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher so remarkable. Make no mistake — this is what should happen. But it's interesting to note that while Shelby was charged, the male officers responsible for also fatally shooting unarmed black men predominantly weren't.
Now there could be a few explanations for this. Perhaps the justice system is finally catching up to the atrocities happening to the black community (though one only needs to look to the events unfolding in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week to see that the justice system has a devastatingly long way to go). And the evidence of this shooting — a video that shows Crutcher walking to his car with his hands raised, moments before Shelby shot him — was also overwhelmingly clear.
But one other possibility (and likely multiple factors interplay at once) is that Shelby was convicted so quickly because she's a woman. Again, this is what should happen, regardless of gender — but it's worth noting that almost none of her male officer counterparts were charged at all for similar killings. Perhaps the fact that Shelby is a woman makes it easier to believe she's culpable. Sgt. Alicia White, an officer involved in Freddie Gray's case, was charged, but her charges were promptly dropped, so it's not exactly the same situation.
There has been talk on Twitter of this discrepancy between officer-involved killing charges based on gender:
According to a report of the last nine high-profile fatal police shootings of black Americans, all of the officers involved, 17 in total, were men. Only two have been charged. One for the 2014 death of Laquan McDonald and one for the 2015 death of Walter Scott. While the majority were not charged, some are still awaiting the investigation or trial on paid administrative leave. Many waited over a year for charges to be filed, while Shelby was charged with manslaughter less than a week later.
In Eric Garner's case, officer Daniel Pantaleo was ultimately not criminally charged, even though he was caught on camera choking Garner to his death. Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, a female officer who was supervising the scene, was charged with failure to supervise, which is an internal charge within the NYPD.
Of course, there are plenty other reasons why I'm sure Shleby was charged that quickly (videos show Crutcher clearly followed the law and Shelby's use of force was completely unjust). The criminal complaint against Shelby argued that her "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting" Crutcher during their counter. This shooting was legally deemed unlawful and unnecessary, according to CNN. These are the facts given by the court that explain the formal reasons why Shelby was charged in Crutcher's case. In the other cases, particularly those with male officers who weren't charged, video might not have been clear or available, or there were unclear reasons as to what happened during the police encounter. Therefore, there are certainly reasons besides gender that explain why many male officers haven't been charged in the past.
However, if we take Tamir Rice's case as an example, the lack of accountability (read: not charging the officers involved) makes me question if there is any ounce of gender bias in the criminal justice system. Cops shot Rice after mere seconds of showing up on the scene at the playground in Ohio and there's video of that. Clearly they were in the wrong, but they weren't charged. Why? The caller who reported Rice to the police specifically noted that the perceived gun was "probably fake" and that he was "probably a juvenile," so officers had this information in mind ahead of the time they arrived on the scene.
Of course it's incredibly difficult to decide quickly if a gun is real or fake, but shooting as soon as you arrive on the scene gives little to no time to process anything, and rather relies on lethal force. The criminal prosecutor in this case called it a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications,” thus leading to zero charges for the officers involved. The investigation took a year, so clearly many things were considered, but with the video evidence and the countless black Americans (especially one this young) who are killed by police, it doesn't make me any more inclined to believe the criminal justice system doesn't favor white men in power and therefore charges them less frequently. Rice's case is just one of countless where the officer(s) involved were not charged.
This discrepancy in regards to officers' fatal shooting of unarmed black men demonstrates a clear break in the justice system, and one that often favors white men in positions of power. It's both interesting and disheartening to wonder if justice would have been served differently if the system didn't appear to hold male officers to a different standard than they do their female counterparts. But whether a man or a woman is charged, at least someone is being held accountable for taking yet another black life from America.