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By Editorial Board
On Wednesday, July 18th, the Tulsa City Council passed an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors and make it unlawful for young adults or teenagers under 18 to be in possession of spray paint, spray fabric dye or spray metal coating. Any child in the city caught doing so could be ticketed, forced to appear in court, and fined up to $200.
In an effort to combat incidents of graffiti throughout the city, the council pushed through a poorly researched and hastily-designed new law that will only deepen the issues of inequity and mass-incarceration Tulsa is already facing.
It will force our kids into the criminal justice system for the most trivial of reasons.
It will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline.
It will further criminalize young men and women of color in communities that are already over-policed.
Its enforcement will cost the taxpayers countless dollars and valuable resources.
This ordinance is in no way aligned with the mayor’s vision for “One Tulsa” or the “Resilience Plan” his office recently released.
Because of this, the editorial board of The Black Wall Street Times urges Mayor G.T. Bynum to veto the ordinance when it comes before him this week.
We understand the intention of the council to stem incidents of graffiti, but this is not the way. We need proactive solutions rather than those which lead our kids toward the criminal justice system. The council and the mayor’s office are well aware of the data in the equality indicators presented to them this year, showing that young men and women of color are already three times as likely as their white peers to be arrested. This issue will only be exacerbated by the current ordinance.
While some council members who voted in favor of the proposal argued that this ordinance will not lead to increased incarceration rates, data and historical precedent would suggest otherwise.
Nearly one out of every four children in Tulsa County live in poverty. For these young men and women, the ability to attend a court hearing or pay a fine is drastically impeded by financial constraints. Should any juvenile caught up in the penalty associated with this ordinance be unable to comply, it will almost certainly result in a misdemeanor “failure to appear” charge and prompt a bench warrant for their arrest.
This child will then potentially be forced to spend time incarcerated and accrue a criminal record which will their opportunities to receive college scholarships or pursue post-secondary careers diminish. Their chance for educational success will be hindered and their future trajectory significantly altered – all because of a can of spray paint.
Our city is better than this ordinance. Its passage was a mistake which could prompt enormous unintended consequences, but it was a mistake that can easily be corrected.
In the words of our mayor, “there is no better way to serve Tulsa than to put forth actions that benefit everyone in our city.”
Mayor Bynum, you have an opportunity to continue pushing us toward the Tulsa you envisioned in your campaign; the resilient, world-class city for all that you have consistently championed.
We are looking to you for guidance and leadership. We urge you to fight for all of our kids and the whole of our city. We urge you to view this work through the equity-lens necessary to ensure it aligns with your vision. We urge you to press forward in bringing us closer to “One Tulsa”.
We urge you to veto this ordinance.