By: Nate Morris, senior editor
“It’s been 902 days since my twin brother was gunned down in the street,” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher told a crowd of nearly two hundred people who packed the 36th Street North Event Center in Tulsa on Thursday night. “Nine hundred and two days and no one has been held accountable.”
The community-lead public hearings came as a response to what many called continued inaction from city officials who have yet to approve public hearings since they were first requested by Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper (District 1) and the North Tulsa community last summer.
Tonight’s event, sponsored by the national NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU-Oklahoma, The United League for Social Action (TULSA), the Terence Crutcher Foundation and other local organizations, sought to model what public hearings about racial disparities in policing could look like. The event featured panels of experts along with comments from the public.
Drew Diamond, former chief of police for the Tulsa Police Department, lamented what he noted as the lack of a clear commitment to community policing from the organization he once lead.
Diamond, who noted he had been having the same conversation with mayors for decades, implored city leaders, including Mayor Bynum, to immediately implement community policing practices.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Diamond, “we know how to organize police departments… it’s not about how many police officers you have, it’s about what they do and where they are assigned.”
Diamond went on to call for “an organizational transformation” within the police department, saying that the department was “patronizing” Tulsa citizens.
“They pat us on the back and say ‘we’re gonna get there, just hang on’. How many times have we heard ‘we’re gonna get there’?”
Chief Egunwale Amusan spoke of his own experience with racially biased policing. Amusan recalled a time he was protesting police violence during a Klan rally in 1994 when he became a survivor of police brutality.
“I was beaten and attacked by seven police other officers,” recalled Amusan, “One put me in an ‘Eric Garner chokehold’, one used a full can of pepper spray on me and the other kicked me in the head.”
Amusan said he was arrested and went to court where “seven officers, including [current TPD chief] Chuck Jordan testified against me and perjured themselves.”
He went on to reference the historical context of modern day police shootings of unarmed Black men and women to lynchings of the Jim Crow era. Amusan told the crowd “don’t be surprised when your current mayor doesn’t talk about it,” noting that Black citizens of Tulsa are often the ones peacefully calling for change for the violence they experience.
“Our humanity is so deep,” said Amusan, “Even today, we are the ones talking about reconciliation when we didn’t do anything to say ‘we need to be reconciled.'”
“We stand up because we don’t have anything to lose,” Amusan told the crowd, “the worst has already been done to us. There is no form of torture or oppression that we can say has not been executed against us – and we’re still here.”
Also in attendance at the event was the family of Joshua Harvey (25), an unarmed Black man, brother, son and friend who was killed after reportedly being tased “no less than 27 times in less than three minutes” by police in the lobby of the downtown Arvest bank last August.
Roma Snowball-Presley, Joshua’s mother, spoke at the event and called for justice for her family and her son.
Presley said that her son, who suffered from bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, was killed “as a result of Tulsa Police using excessive force against him” and said that she was not notified of her son’s critical condition after he had already been in critical care in the hospital for three days.
Joshua’s mother recounted watching the footage of Joshua’s encounter with police, stating “I watched as one officer stated he hoped Joshua didn’t have AIDS,” and “I watched as my son withered in pain, crying for help, and one officer told him ‘no, you’ve been naughty this morning and we’re not happy with your behavior.'”
The Presley family has called for charges to be filed in Joshua’s death, noting that they believe the officers violated use-of-force guidelines by deploying multiple tasers at one time on a single individual.
In an interview with local media immediately prior to the event, officials in the Tulsa Police Department attempted to negate the equality indicators which showed racial disparities in use of force.
“You are no more likely to have force used against you based on your race,” said TPD Sgt. Shane Tuell, who denied any racial disparity and suggested that department data showed a 1:1 ratio.
Experts pushed back against that idea at the public hearing, indicating that the department’s own data used to publish the equality indicators report a year ago clearly shows that Black citizens are nearly 3x more likely than white citizens to experience use of force, proportionate to population.
“You can skew data however you want to skew data,” said one of Joshua Harvey’s family members from the stage.
Tulsa Police Department leadership were invited to attend tonight’s public hearing, though none were present.
Likewise, Mayor Bynum and the entire city council were invited to attend, however only Councilors Hall-Harper, Patrick and Decter-Wright were in the crowd tonight (Councilor McKee is on maternity leave).
Damario Solomon-Simmons, attorney for the families of Terence Crutcher and Joshua Harvey, forcefully called for the city council to approve public hearings in an upcoming vote and for immediate action to be taken by city leaders, including the mayor, to shift culture within the Tulsa Police department and address the disparities that are laid bare in the Equality Indicator’s report.
Solomon-Simmons said that the vote for public hearings will provide a clear answer to the question: “Do Black lives matter to the Tulsa city council and the mayor?”
Ralikh Hayes, a Baltimore-based organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who traveled with a team to Tulsa to help put on the event, issued a call to action to the crowd to flood the inboxes and phone lines of city council members until public hearings are passed.
“Get your phones out, make your calls,” Hayes said, “that is what you need to do now.”
The city council is currently scheduled to vote on whether or not to hold public hearings this coming Wednesday, March 13th.
The mood throughout the event remained both urgent and hopeful, as community member after community member shared their stories and their ideas with an audience compelled and moved in the fight for change in Tulsa.
“Some of Terence’s last words were ‘God’s gonna get the glory out of my life,” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher said of her brother in the closing moments of the evening, “God truly got the glory tonight.”