The Tulsa Race Massacre: Then and Now

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 05/30/2020, 2:01 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
Photo Courtesy: Greenwood Cultural Center (TULSA, Okla.) Sunday will be 99 years since a mob of white residents attacked black residents, homes and businesses in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, ultimately leveling “Black Wall Street”, one of the most successful African-American communities in the country at the time. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were left homeless. The violence was sparked after rumors that a black man had sexually assaulted a white woman in an elevator. It was later determined he had either bumped into her or stepped on her foot. With an “official” death toll standing at 26 black people and 10 white people, the City of Tulsa resumed the effort of searching for mass graves in 2018 led by Mayor G.T. Bynum. Their investigation has led to at least one possible site, but a Test Excavation scheduled for April has been postponed due to COVID-19 threat. Human Rights Watch released a report on Friday, calling for reparations for massacre survivors and descendants: A GoFundMe page was started to help return Black Wall Street to its former glory, but those aspirations still have a long way to go: Nearly 100 years later, racial tensions continue in Tulsa and nationwide.
One thousand protestors gathered for “We Can’t Breathe – Peaceful Protest” on Brookside in Tulsa on Saturday. Organizers said the event was put on to peacefully protest the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor nationally, as well as the deaths of Terence Crutcher, Joshua Harvey and Joshua Barre locally. Their demands also included more police oversight and accountability, divestment in enforcement, investment in community health and well-being and an end to the television show “Live PD” in Tulsa. UPDATE: One person was struck by a vehicle when protesters took to I-44. Mayor G.T. Bynum responded to the protesters on social media Saturday night, saying in part, "I’ve been asked if I will meet with activists to discuss their aspirations for our city. My answer: Of course," and "What I will not do: Agree to a list of demands because people block streets, shut down highways, or come to my family’s home. Change occurs in Tulsa through collaboration, deliberation and thoughtful action - not through attempts at intimidation." As tensions between police and civilians rise all over the country, what steps does the Tulsa Police Department to keep themselves and their citizens safe? VNN looked to a recent effort to independently study how their officers use or avoid using force during arrests. The Data Analysis Report was initiated by Deputy Chief of Police Jonathan Brooks on June 18, 2018: The independent study analyzed nearly 32,000 in-custody arrests from January 1, 2016, to June 30, 2018. Findings and recommendations were released in March of this year. Current policy at TPD only mandates use of force reporting when a police weapon is used, a K9 bite occurs, an officer strikes a subject with his/her fist, knee, etc., or an injury or complaint of injury occurs. Here is a list of key study findings: - TPD used force in approximately 1.7% of arrests during the 30-month period. - Data revealed that most TPD use of force occurred during arrests for less serious crimes, which also made up the bulk of total arrests. - Squad level data revealed that the Canine Unit alone accounted for 28% of the force cases reported. - Force was used against males about three times more often than against females during arrests. - Force rates by race were relatively similar; Whites were the subjects of force in 1.7% of arrests, Blacks 1.8%, Hispanics 2.0%, Asians 2.2%, and Native Americans 1.4%. Young, Black males (18 and under) had forced used against them in 1.9% of arrests. - Importantly, there were no statistical differences in the frequency of force used against minority civilians (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American) compared to Whites. In fact, young, Black males were slightly less likely to have force used against them than other civilians. - More experienced officers were slightly more likely to use force than less experienced officers, while male and female officers used force at about the same rate. - The odds of injury to a civilian increased more than five-fold when officers used physical control tactics compared to hard-hand tactics while the likelihood of civilian injury went down significantly when officers used pepper spray compared to hard-hand control. And here is a list of recommendations outlined in the report: - Expand use of force data collection: TPD should change its use of force reporting policy to require officers to report force any time they use more than a firm grip to control a civilian. - Improve documentation of force, injuries, and civilian demeanor - Capture instances when deadly force could have been used but was not - Review the training and force practices of the Police Canine Unit - Review use of force policy and training Chief Wendell Franklin said during an unrelated press conference on Friday that he was aware of things going on in other parts of the country. “I’m sickened and horrified by the video image that I saw yesterday regarding the death of Mr. Floyd,” Franklin said. “So, from our departments perspective, our hearts go out to that family.” VNN reached out to Tulsa Police to find out if he has since put any of the study’s recommendations into action. We have not received a response back at this time. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and community stakeholders will hold a virtual commemoration of the 99th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre on Sunday from 2 - 2:30 p.m. Speakers will include Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa Police Chief Wendell and Tulsa Race Massacre Commission Project Director Phil Armstrong. Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center is commemorating the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre online with family activities to learn and have conversations about the massacre from May 26 to June 1: Check back for updates.


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