TULSA, Oklahoma (AP) – There has been undeniable progress in the relationship between Tulsa Police and the city’s black community over the past 100 years. Then again, it’s hard to imagine it could get any worse.
Complaints about police prejudice and the lack of sufficient minority officers remain. But the police chief is now a black man from northern Tulsa, the area that includes what was once America’s richest black business district.
In 1921, decades before the civil rights movement, even the idea of a black police chief would have been inconceivable. That year, Greenwood – the Black North Tulsa neighborhood that includes the area known as Black Wall Street – was burned to the ground with the help of the virtually all-white Tulsa Police Department. Triggered by accusations that a 19-year-old black man assaulted a 17-year-old white girl in an elevator, the Tulsa race massacre left up to 300 dead and thousands of black residents displaced. Thirty-five square blocks were set on fire and the damage amounted to millions.
The Tulsa Police Department replaced white crowds and supplied them with weapons. Numerous reports describe white men with badges setting fire to and shooting blacks in connection with the invasion of Greenwood. According to an Associated Press article at the time, black people driven from their homes by the hundreds shouted, “Don’t shoot! as they rushed through the flames.
After the massacre was largely ignored for decades, awareness has grown in recent years. Police Chief Chuck Jordan stood in Greenwood in 2013 and apologized for the department’s role.
“I cannot apologize for the actions, inaction or failures of these individual officers and their leader,” Jordan said. “But as the leader today, I can apologize to our police department. I am sorry and saddened that the Tulsa Police Department failed to protect its citizens during the tragic days of 1921. ”
The appointment of Wendell Franklin to succeed Jordan last year is seen by some as a measure of progress. But the Black Tulsans say it’s not enough.
“I think it’s something the community needs to see,” said Ina Sharon Mitchell, a 70-year-old woman who grew up in northern Tulsa. “But how far does this change really go when the doors are closed?”
In a 2018 Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index survey designed to measure quality of life issues, only 18% of black residents said they trusted the police a lot, compared with 49% of white residents, and 46% of black Tulsans said trust the police. “Not at all” or “not much”, against 16% of whites.
According to Tulsa’s Equality Indicators, produced in partnership between the city and the Community Service Council, black youth were more than three times more likely to be arrested in 2020 than white youth. Black adults were more than 2.54 times more likely to be arrested than white adults and 2.65 times more likely to be subject to use of force.
In 2016, then Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shot dead Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. Shelby – a white woman – was acquitted of manslaughter. She was reassigned to the department before resigning. For the Black Tulsans who grew up learning what happened in Greenwood, Crutcher’s murder brought back an old pain.
“I believe the murder of my brother really exposed a century of racial tension here in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said Terence Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany Crutcher.
Crutcher said relations between Tulsa Police and the community are still strained.
“Here in Tulsa, explicitly and specifically, there is not a very good relationship between the police and the black community, the black and brown communities,” she said. “The relationship is not good at all. There is no trust there.
Crutcher started the Terence Crutcher Foundation with the aim of addressing fear and mistrust between black communities and law enforcement. She is frustrated with the lack of progress in Tulsa and is particularly disappointed with Franklin.
“He’s someone who doesn’t believe – someone who looks like me – that the Tulsa Police Department has a problem with racist cops,” she said.
“He says the problem doesn’t exist. So to me, I don’t care what color you are, but if you’ve already built relationships with the community and done the right thing in community policing, then I can take care of you. Putting someone in this position that looks like us is just a superficial act of putting lipstick on a pig. “
Franklin did not respond to several interview requests.
Greg Robinson, the founding organizer of Demanding a JUSTulsa, 31, and director of homestead and community ownership for the Met Cares Foundation, said there was a lack of transparency on the part of the Police Department. Tulsa.
“I think the main problem is that there is no monitoring system or citizen accountability,” he said. “I think that’s really where we fall. It’s not that all police are bad because they’re not. But not everyone in our community is a criminal either. And sometimes it feels like you’re being controlled like that.
Mitchell said that in the 1950s and 1960s there were more black officers, which fostered a sense of partnership. It’s different now – in 2019, according to the department’s annual report, 8.4 percent of employees were black, compared to 15.1 percent of the city’s overall population.
“When I was a kid and grew up, most of the police looked like me,” she said. “They lived in the community, so the relationship between the police department and the community was one-on-one. They knew the children. They knew the schools they went to. Now you don’t have that.
Robinson, who is also a board member of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, continues to be hopeful that changes can happen. He thinks the ideal would be to start with police outreach, local surveillance, and inclusion of the black community. The fact that Franklin is from the neighborhood helps Robinson to remain optimistic.
“I hope that through his tenure he can really start to inject, gauge the community around the changes that we are advocating,” said Robinson. “So far that hasn’t happened, but it’s definitely someone who grew up in the north. He should understand it. And I hope he would be brave enough to really include us and get involved.
Crutcher took his fight beyond Oklahoma. She said some of her recommendations are included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which is under consideration. She said she was in Washington this spring with the family of Floyd, who was killed by police last year in Minneapolis, and relatives of Botham Jean and Eric Garner, also who died at the hands of police, in lobbying for the bill.
She said her brother told her in their last conversation that he was going to make her proud and that “God was going to take the glory out of my life.”
“I believe the work I have done – this fair fight – the fact that we are on the verge of some type of change – is living proof of Terence’s last statement to me,” she said. declared. “But we have so much work to do.”
Find full AP coverage of the centenary of the Tulsa race massacre: https://apnews.com/hub/tulsa-race-massacre