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By Nehemiah D. Frank, Founder and Editor-in-chief
TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa city councilors voted yes to public hearings on policing practices in a unanimous vote, setting a new precedent for public officials to now take the demands of their black constituency seriously.
At 4:30 pm on Wednesday, the Tulsa City Hall chamber was already half full and continued filling until the room was maxed to capacity. Then around 5:10 pm, nearly 100 additional arrivers were directed to an overflow room, where they watched the council meeting.
A group of concerned citizens, wanting to speak, were initially let down by a city worker who informed them that that council members decided, earlier that day, to not allow public comments on item number 8(g) — stating that citizens already had the opportunity to speak on public hearings concerning police practices at the last city council meeting prior to yesterday’s much publicized and highly attended council meeting.
Council Chair Phil Lakin made an unorthodox move, placing the action item to the head of the meeting and allowed for public comment due to the large crowd that showed up to City Hall in support of public hearings for policing practices — in a city that witnesses and experiences extreme racial disparities at the hands of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD).
Passionate citizens nonviolently demonstrated their concerns of unjust police practices by TPD’s officers at the podium through song, silent individual protest, and powerful narratives that only proximate individuals could deliver — family members who had lost their loved ones, unjustly mistreated then killed by TPD officers.
Nearly everyone that spoke seemingly appeared in sync with the other speakers.
Joshua Harvey’s mother, Roma Snowball-Presley, was the first to speak during public comments on 8(g).
“My son was tased 27 times by the Tulsa Police Department. He died three days later in the hospital,” Mrs. Snowball-Presley shared at the podium, addressing the city councilors.
“No one from the police department knocked on my door to tell me that my son had been hospitalized,” she added.
The TPD officers involved have yet to be charged nor reprimanded for the death of Joshua Harvey, an unarmed black man who suffered from mental illness.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher’s comments were dynamic and unforgettable. She was accompanied by Richard Baxter, a community leader and activist.
Baxter, carrying a large white box, walked slowly — accompanying Dr. Crutcher to the dais together.
From the moment her commanding voice boomed through the microphone, the room became solemnly quiet.
All eyes were on Tiffany, the twin sister who had lost her brother on national television, Terence Crutcher — another unarmed black man, whose only crime was being deaf in his right ear, legally blind in his right eye, coupled with having a mental health issue while being black.
A TPD officer’s bullets pierced Terence’s right side, while his hands were visibly up — in a position of surrender.
Dr. Crutcher began reaching into the white box, pulling her deceased brother’s belongings, from the night of his death, and placed Terence’s items one-by-one on the dais’ podium for the world to see.
No sound could be heard from the audience nor the council — not even the adjustment from a spectator’s movement in a seat.
“We asked you for one simple thing, for you all to figure out: Why? Why this happened to my twin brother. And all I heard was: ‘We don’t want to be cussed at; we don’t want to be antagonized; we don’t want to bash the police.’ But every day, I look at this. My brother’s bloody clothes: his shoes, his necklace, his socks, his prosthetic eye. And you’re concerned about being antagonized?” She emotionally exclaimed.
Then one-by-one, she began naming city officials, calling out those who had immorally and publicly demonstrated opposition to public hearings on TPD’s racial disparities found in the 2018 Equality Indicator report.
“Phil Lakin, you said to ‘stay neutral.’ You have to pick a side; a neutral car goes nowhere,” she declared.
Spontaneous snaps, claps, and shouts protruded from the large crowd that seemingly backed her.
Dr. Crutcher continued:
“Mayor Bynum, you said: Thursday was simply a ‘PR stunt’. You think my brother being slaughtered by a killer cop is a PR stunt? You think my parents coming up here, every single week, is a PR stunt? Joshua’s family, Mrs. Harvey said, ‘You think that’s a PR stunt?’ The fact that I would fly back and forth every single month to fight for police reform — you think that was a PR stunt? I was shocked when I heard you say that.” No one could deny that the mayor seemingly felt the cut of Dr. Crutcher’s formidable, public comments.
The mayor was seen glancing downward several times during Dr. Crutcher’s public testimony.
“And how much is it going to cost, Connie Dodson? ‘How much is it going to cost taxpayers?’ I heard somebody say that. But you are paying for the defense of Betty Shelby, a killer cop, who should have never been a Tulsa police officer,” raising her voice in full frustration to city officials.
“You all are perpetuating the ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”
“All we want to do is sit down and have a conversation with the people who we pay to serve and protect us,” she exclaimed.
Tulsans wanted a yes vote, and their demands were actualized with 9 yea votes and 0 nay votes from the councilors.
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.