Tulsa’s black residents grapple with the city’s racist history and police brutality ahead of Trump’s rally


In 2016, 40-year old Crutcher was killed by a Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer on a roadway. Like many of those left behind by police killings, his twin sister Tiffany Crutcher’s life changed forever.

“We’re twins, yes, three minutes apart. He came out first and he calls me his little big sister,” Crutcher said in an interview with CNN. “I never thought that I would be on the other side of this issue.

“I never thought that we would be in the middle of a fight for justice, a fight for equality, fight for police accountability,” she said.

The officer who killed her brother, Betty Shelby, was charged with manslaughter, but she was later acquitted.

This week, the world’s eyes have shifted back to Tulsa, years after the spotlight left following Terence Crutcher’s murder. But for Tiffany, the problems and the fight for justice — not just for her brother but for thousands of others — continues.

It’s a fight that has been waged here in this deeply segregated city for more than 100 years — intertwining the city’s modern-day inhabitants with the struggle of their ancestors, some of whom were murdered and displaced during the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, one of the worst racially-motivated massacres on American soil in the last century.

“It’s just simply a continuation of what’s been going on for years,” Crutcher said. “The same culture that burned down Black Wall Street and killed innocent people and ran my great grandmother from her home with the same culture, the same police and culture that killed Terence.”

Tiffany Crutcher became an activist against police brutality after her twin brother Terence Crutcher was killed by a Tulsa Police officer in 2016.

The atmosphere in Tulsa over policing has been tense for years — and the protests over Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police only heightened them.

Then came President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would host a campaign rally in the city on Juneteenth — a holiday celebrated annually by Tulsa’s black residents, which marks when slaves in Texas first learned that they had been freed, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

“To come to the birthplace of Black Wall Street, a place where we had the worst domestic racist, terrorist attack in US history …It’s insulting, it’s infuriating,” Crutcher said

Under pressure, Trump changed the date, but the bigger concern for residents here is his rhetoric and actions. Trump has focused on a “law and order” message, emphasizing the small violent elements that in some cities burned and looted during protests, and largely ignoring the issue of systemic racism. Trump insists that these incidents are caused mostly by “bad apples,” who make most other officers look bad.

In Tulsa, black residents, who are about 10% of the population, hold on to their proud history of Black Wall Street. In the early 1900s, Greenwood boasted doctors, lawyers, musicians and businessmen. The streets were lined with stores and the largest black-owned hotel in the country, the Stradford Hotel.

Today, the city remains segregated, but decades of urban renewal — that has largely left the black neighborhood behind — and depopulation have left Tulsa a tale of two cities.

And in the black part of Tulsa — north of the train tracks — residents experience a form of policing they consider to be harassment.

Those complaints appear to be backed up by one independent study from Human Rights Watch in 2018 that found that black Tulsa residents are more than 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than white residents.

The study also found that traffic stops are more likely to happen in the black, poor parts of the city. And when those stops happen, they tend to last longer, and are also more likely to result in removal from the vehicle, search questioning and arrest.

These statistics and the complaints of residents have predated this moment yet are now coming into fresh focus.

Recently, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum angered residents — especially the Crutcher family — by denying that race played a role in Terence Crutcher’s death.

“It is more about the really insidious nature of drug utilization than it is about race, in my opinion,” Bynum told CBS News.

The Crutcher family hasn’t shied away from Terence Crutcher’s addiction problems, but say that the fact that he was killed, not aided by police, highlights how police view black men as threats even when they are unarmed.

“Terence just needed help that day,” Crutcher said. “That’s all he needed and he was overcoming.

“He was initially bettering his life through education and he was robbed of it,” she said.

Bynum apologized, saying in a Facebook message that he knows his comments “hurt a lot of good people and has caused a lot of my allies in our work to address racial disparity to question my real commitment.”

Then came comments from Tulsa Police Major Travis Yates, who has long been a controversial figure in the police force.

Yates said officers are “shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”

The Tulsa Police Department said that Yates is now under investigation and some Tulsa residents have called for his resignation.

But the comments highlight a point of view that some residents believe is more pervasive and has justified an over policing of black neighborhoods in the city.

“If you don’t see me fully, as a human being, you’re more inclined to harass me, more inclined to arrest me more than my white counterparts, more inclined to give me a more severe sentence than white counterparts, all of that based on fact,” said Rep. Regina Goodwin, an Oklahoma state representative and a Tulsa native. “I don’t have a criminal record, but I’ve had a gun placed in my face by police officers on three different occasions.

“And I’ve not been in any crime, but it is again, profiling.”

It isn’t just motorists who are targeted by police for stops and searches.

A recent incident involving two teens who were stopped by police and arrested for jaywalking prompted outrage once again in Tulsa.

Two officers from the police department’s Organized Gang Unit stopped the teens as they were walking on a back road with no sidewalk in a residential neighborhood in North Tulsa.

Damario Solomon-Simmons, the teens’ lawyer, said they were walking from the bus stop on a main road to a relative’s house in the community, when officers in a patrol car began following them and eventually stopped them.

“My clients who are 13 and 15 had been walking on this road minding their own business,” said Solomon-Simmons.

What happened then was caught on tape by both the officers’ body cameras and also bystanders who watched the scene in horror.

One officer can be seen searching the pocket of the teen who had been put in the front seat of the police car. A few minutes later, the officer can be seen kicking his legs as the teen struggles.

“It really made me sickened in myself to see such brutality on a child like that,” said Donna Corbitt, who witnessed and filmed the encounter as it played out in her neighborhood. “This is the place where young people come all the time. I walk all the time and most of the time I come right there in the street and walk around.”

Donna Corbitt witnessed the violent arrest of two teenagers in her north Tulsa neighborhood. She was so shocked by what she saw that she recorded the encounter.

“Because you see those bushes and weeds over there, I’m not walking through all of that. There’s no really sidewalks here until you get to the parking lot so what is jaywalking really,” she added.

The Tulsa Police Department said it is investigating the arrest. But in a statement, the department noted that the unit that made this stop “utilize both consensual encounters as well as probable cause stops to contact citizens in the residential neighborhoods.”

“Most often these contacts are very brief but provide the officers a chance to build rapport and discuss the reason for the stop and why they are in the area,” the statement continued.

As he struggled with the officer attempting to strap him into the front seat of the patrol car, the younger teen can be heard in the video complaining that he was being racially profiled and demanded officers call his mother, a moment that still haunts Tawanna Adkins.

“I felt helpless because I wasn’t there to protect him. I felt like I had let him down. A sense of sadness just came over me,” said Adkins, who is the mother of the younger teen and aunt of the other. “It just broke my heart that they felt comfortable harassing, abusing and humiliating.”

It is another viral video of a violent police encounter that has prompted outrage and exposed the trauma that people like Tiffany Crutcher still live with today.

Crutcher watched the video of the two teens, until she couldn’t anymore.

“I just lost it,” she said. “All I could think about is that baby, thinking he was going to be the next George Floyd or the next Terence Crutcher.”


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