By Nehemiah Frank
Major Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department has a controversial history with Tulsa’s African American community. In 2016, he drew public criticism by penning the following in an article on law officer.com:
“This is war.”
And then he continued, “We are at war! The men and women behind the badge know it. Good leaders know it, and decent communities know it. For the safety of all of our men and women behind the badge, it is time our country knows it.”
Black citizens vigorously questioned Yates for clarity at the Greenwood Cultural Center that year. He responded that he felt emotional after the 2016 killing of the Dallas police cfficers. North Tulsa wondered what Yates meant by “decent communities.”
Major Yates stated that he never intended for an article that he wrote for an online police publication to be divisive or inflammatory. Yates apologized to the community at the Greenwood Cultural Center, and Black residents gracefully accepted.
The department informed NewsOn6 that reassignments were routine. So, the remaining question is: Where does that leave the city of Tulsa and Black Tulsans if the goal is to bridge the trust gap between Tulsa police officers and the African American community?
Even after finding himself in hot water, in 2018, Yates is at controversial odds again with Tulsa’s African American residents. In a letter he wrote to Mayor GT Bynum, which he gave to the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police’s Facebook page, Yates crafts his negatively racialized rhetoric. His letter reads in such a way that incites further racial profiling and stigma of African Americans.
We’ve provided the letter below, and we’ve highlighted in red the areas that we think are racially inflamed or nonsensical rhetoric intended for the purposes to incite further racial profiling and stigmatization.
We look forward to your comments in our Facebook comment section.
Travis Yates Letter to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum:
In a letter written to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and city councilors, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and 51 local residents, accuse the Tulsa Police Department of “racially-biased policing.” A disparity in use of force and arrests were cited as the evidence of their claims. The Tulsa Police Department has been both open and transparent to our residents with this data. A 25 year member of the FOP and current Tulsa Police Commander wrote the following letter to our members. We believe it is accurate, based on factual data and in context with the data.
An Open Letter To My Brothers & Sisters
I want to begin by thanking the FOP for permitting me to write to you. As many of you did, I woke up this morning to more of the same. The allegation that the Tulsa Police Department is racist.
In a sense,writing to you may be therapy for me but in reality I hope that I can somehow encourage you.
Unlike many of the individuals that are making this allegation, I have spent the last two decades following the facts and data as it pertains to the issue of disproportional policing. I have trained law enforcement in 46 states and 3 countries and I have been a Tulsa Police Officer for 25 years, with many of those years assigned to Tulsa North.
I can say unequivocally, without a doubt, that these accusations are false and based on an incomplete set of data and taken grossly out of context.After visiting with thousands of police officers over the years in hundreds of police agencies, I can also say that the Tulsa Police Department is made up of some of the best this nation has to offer which makes this allegation so sickening.
This is an attack on you.It’s an attack on our profession and it’s done to sway public opinion against you. Without context it’s dangerous and it is divisive.
I’ve heard this type of accusation in one form or another from my first day on the job and for the most part our agency has sit back, taken the allegation and done a lot that others have asked from us.
Consent Decree – Done
Change Promotional Process – Done
Adopt New Training – Done
Change Policy – Done
Work tirelessly in recruiting diversity – Done
Increase Community Policing – Done
Body Camera s- Done
And I could continue but the question that needs to be asked is when will the demands stop? When will the allegations stop?
They won’t stop.
Some will say that when police activity mirrors the demographics of the population, then that signals an unbiased police department. If that is the standard, unless some deep rooted issues are corrected in our city, we will never achieve it.
That is the great scam that is being played out not only on us but agencies across the country.
TPD responds to criminal activity and we deploy our patrol resources based on calls for service which is an indicator of criminal activity. I wonder if the individuals making these allegations know that we deploy the same amount of police officers to Tulsa North as we do South?
Despite a significantly higher population and higher business rate in South Tulsa, we must deploy the same resources to both sides of town. Why? Some would say that is evidence of disproportional policing while the victims of crime in Tulsa North would likely thank us for being there and being able to respond in a timely manner.
The reason is easy to understand to those that want to rely on facts rather than emotion.There is a more demand for law enforcement services (911 calls) from a smaller population in one side of town versus another.This is not TPD making a conscious decision to put more police cars in African American neighborhoods. It’s TPD utilizing data from victims of crime via the 911 system to ensure we can reach victims appropriately and those victims are disproportionately African American.
The vast majority of our arrests do not come from pro-activity (officers stopping cars, etc). As you know, much of that does not exist as our call load has increased and staffing has decreased. A high majority of our arrests and contacts come from the victims that are reporting crimes against them. Simply put, in our current environment, if all TPD did was to respond to 911 calls, and arrest suspects after they had victimized our citizens, our arrests would continue to be disproportionate.
This is what those that blame fail to recognize.It is intellectually dishonest to discuss disproportional policing without speaking about disproportional victimization.
It is not the fault of our officers that this exists.
Frankly, I’m sickened that African Americans are victimized at such a higher rate.Last year, with a record homicide year, African Americans were 7 times more likely to be victims of homicide than any other race. The African Americans that live in Adam Squad were 17 times more likely. Homicide is not the only crime where this disproportionality occurs and nationally, we see that trend among all Part 1 crimes.
Who is speaking for these victims? Who are defending our citizens from violence?
The Tulsa Police Department does and you do it despite the continued drum beat from a few others that doing your job somehow makes you a racist.
While some of those that have demanded that we change have an agenda and certainly know that their out of context claims are false, some are simply misguided and told partial facts rather than entire stories.I do believe they mean well.
To those individuals that truly want a better Tulsa, I would ask that they place their efforts on real change and much ofthe issues that are causing the disparity in police contacts lie at the feet of men that are not raising their children.
President Obama said children that are raised in a home without a father have 5 times more of a chance of going to prison and for 25 years, I have personally witnessed this.
85% of all youth in prison today are from fatherless homes. 72% of everyone in prison for murder are from fatherless homes. 85% of rapists come from fatherless homes and 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. The likelihood of drug abuse, poverty, gang affiliation and just about every negative life event is higher when a father abandons their child.
And fatherless homes have decimated African Americansat a significantly higher rate than any other race. Nationally it stands at 73% and while I couldn’t find a specific number for Tulsa, it is likely very close to the national trend.
Without the clear research that exists that says fatherless homes, which lead to poverty are the single biggest contributors to crime,I know that you understand how devastating this has been to some communities in our great city. You see it every day.
It’s sad. It’s tragic and it is why we have disproportional statistics in regards to crime.TPD is simply the end result of ills that are plaguing our society today. I wish it wasn’t the case and I can guarantee that heeding to more demands based on faulty data will not change a thing.
I understand why TPD is being attacked.It’s rather easy to follow a national playbook of using partial data, taken out of context, to accuse one of racism but the true tragedy is those that proclaim to care about our citizens are ignoring the real issues that have us where we are today.Good men and women are being victimized in this city and that is what must stop.
I am so thankful for each one of you. You are the highest educated, one of the best trained and truly some of the finest professionals in all of Law Enforcement and you continue to take the continual abuse from a few that refuse to really make a difference by addressing real issues. I am proud of you and I want you to know that the majority of Tulsans, from all sides of town, are as well.Victims of crime need you. Our youth needs you, this city needs you and us here at TPD needs you.
We need you to rise up over these ridiculous claims and continue to provide the best service we possibly can to those that we serve.
As I close, I know this.There will be an attempt to silence this truth but regardless the truth doesn’t change.The typical ploy is to attack me personally or even call me racist.Some may even demand my firing.I’m fine with that. You put that uniform on every day and you help victims and you catch violent criminals and you do all that while risking your personal safety and you are often treated horribly by the criminals you interact with. If you are willing to do that, the least I can do is risk being called a name.
Thank you for what you do and may God Bless You.
Travis J. Yates
Tulsa FOP #93
See original letter and Facebook posthere.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.