Terence T. Crutcher was new to the Dream Team.
The members were a group of older students at Tulsa Community College who served as mentors to younger black men with troubled pasts. Delores Taylor told Mr. Crutcher he was the perfect candidate: He had turned 40 in August, and he was turning his life around after struggling with drugs by taking classes at the community college and pursuing a music career. He was nearly six feet tall and weighed 244 pounds — some called him “Big Crutch” — but often carried his size to quiet comedic effect.
“You looked at his size, and I just said, ‘Whoo!’ ” said Ms. Taylor, a former president of the college’s black student association. “But he was just a big teddy bear. Terence knew where he wanted to go. He knew his goals, and I wanted to use him as an example.”
Ms. Taylor asked Mr. Crutcher to join the student association’s Dream Team, and on Sept. 12, he agreed.
Four days later, Mr. Crutcher was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer, a shooting captured on video that stoked outrage throughout Tulsa and around the country. Mr. Crutcher was outside his S.U.V. in the middle of a street when he was shot by a white officer. He was unarmed and had his hands in the air for much of the confrontation. The officer, Betty Jo Shelby, 42, was charged by prosecutors with first-degree manslaughter, and she was accused of overreacting to his refusal to follow her commands.
On Saturday evening at his funeral, Mr. Crutcher’s relatives and friends, joined by city and Oklahoma officials and black community leaders, filled a Baptist church four miles from where he was shot.
Music defined Mr. Crutcher’s life, and it defined his farewell — a rollicking, nearly three-hour funeral that his pastor called a “home-going celebration” that was led by a gospel band and a tambourine-shaking choir, dozens strong. The program was interrupted for more singing, more dancing. It was through song that mourners heard Mr. Crutcher’s voice, as a gospel ballad that his late brother wrote and that he recorded and sang echoed through Antioch Baptist Church. And it was yet another song that filled the church at the end as Mr. Crutcher’s blue coffin was slowly pushed down the aisle, sung by one of the men who pulled the coffin forward.
“Terence is free,” the man sang. “Rest on, Big Crutch.”
Throughout the funeral, one phrase kept coming up, as a way to heal their anger and to take the sting out of an insult. As the confrontation with the police unfolded, an unidentified officer in a police helicopter overhead can be heard in a video of the shooting saying, “That looks like a bad dude, too.” Speaker after speaker disputed the description.
“Terence was not a bad dude. Terence was a great dude,” one of the family’s lawyers, Damario Solomon-Simmons, told the crowd, adding, “When they encountered Terence they didn’t know. They didn’t know who he was. They didn’t know he had a family that loved him. They didn’t know he had a community that loved him.”
Mr. Crutcher was a choir singer, a father, a quoter of Proverbs. He was a native of Tulsa, born three minutes before his twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher. He was the father of four children, ages 4 to 16, and a 17-year-old stepson. A GoFundMe page created to support Mr. Crutcher’s children raised more than $160,000 in three days.
Mr. Crutcher’s father and mother — the Rev. Joey Crutcher and his wife, Leanna — first learned of their son’s death while inside the church. They were leading a rehearsal for a concert to celebrate Antioch’s 57th anniversary. His father was playing the organ, and his mother was directing a choir when two of Mr. Crutcher’s sisters walked in and put their arms around the couple and broke the news.
“I speak for the entirety of our city,” said Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr., who is white and who has been praised by black leaders for helping to calm racial tensions. “To the Crutcher family, I am so very sorry. The sympathies of this community is with you.”
Mr. Crutcher had a record of run-ins with law enforcement dating to the 1990s, including charges for public intoxication and resisting arrest, according to court and prison records. In 2007, he was sentenced to state prison after being convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs. He served nearly four years and was released on parole in 2011. Officials said the police discovered PCP in the front seat of his vehicle after he was shot. The drug, which is highly addictive and sometimes called angel dust, can cause hallucinations and paranoia. He told a woman who had called 911 to report the abandoned vehicle that he thought his S.U.V. was going to blow up.
Some of those who knew him said Mr. Crutcher acknowledged his problems and turned to God for help.
“I did a lot of talking with Terence,” said Barbara Shannon, pastor of New Heights Christian Center, which Mr. Crutcher attended for more than 25 years, adding, “And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re struggling. I know your struggles, baby. We all got struggles.’ ” She said, “I’m not commending Terence for his bad mistakes. I’m not commending me, either. But what I’m commending him for is that he owned up to it. He never stopped. He kept trying. He kept going.”
Yamiche Alcindor contributed reporting from Charlotte, N.C.
SOURCE: MANNY FERNANDEZ and MICHAEL WINES
The New York Times