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By: Nate Morris, senior editor
On April 4, 2018, the City of Tulsa released the first Equality Indicators Report as a part of what Mayor GT Bynum called at the time “a baseline for the work we face as a community.”
The report, which was released in conjunction with Tulsa’s announcement that it was accepted into the 100 Resilient Cities program, spoke to a unprecedented city-wide effort to combat longstanding race, gender and economic inequalities.
The 2018 Equality Indicators report, which used annual data released by the Tulsa Police Department in 2016, showed that Black Tulsans were 2.6 times more likely to experience use of force than white Tulsans when compared to overall population. The report also showed that Black adults were 2.4 times more likely to face arrest than white adults.
In the year since, data from the report has become a driving force in the push for change. As that push escalates in power and intensity, however, there is a sudden but growing narrative combatting the Equality Indicators.
In February, ten months after the report was first released, leadership from the Fraternal Order of Police posited that the data around use of force was skewed in comments made before the city council.
“You are no more likely to have force used against you based on your race,” said Tulsa Police Sgt. Shane Tuell, speaking for the department a month later in March. He argued that internal department data showed no racial disparity when comparing arrest rates to use of force rates.
The Black Wall Street Times recently reviewed 2018 booking data and 2017 use of force data from the Tulsa Police Department.
In Tulsa, Black citizens comprise roughly 15% of the city’s population, but made up more than 35% of the use of force incidents in 2017. Non-Hispanic white residents comprise 54.9% of the city’s population, but only accounted for 44% of 2017 use of force reports.
This review suggested that Black Tulsans were roughly 2.925 times more likely to experience use of force than white Tulsans in 2017 when broken down by population, significantly higher than the 2.6 ratio reported from the 2016 data in the last Equality Indicator report.
The review also showed serious racial disparities in booking rates between Black and white Tulsans. In 2018, the Tulsa Police Department booked 8,658 individuals into David L. Moss, according to a report from the Justice Center dated January 15th, 2019. Of those bookings, 34.4% were Black while 57.5% were white.
When compared to 2018 census data showing population estimates in Tulsa, the report indicated that Black Tulsans were more than 2.5 times as likely as white Tulsans to be arrested and sent to jail. The racial disparity in bookings by TPS arrests was also 10% higher than the disparity in bookings by the county Sheriff’s department.
The issue of racial disparity in our city is pervasive and systemic.
It will not be undone without bold, progressive, sustained efforts to repair what has been purposefully broken.
The equality indicators were simply a start – a catalyst for change. This annual report serves as a valuable piece of information which finally opened a window to allow the stories and lived experiences of so many residents to be heard and acted upon in our data-driven culture.
On April 4, 1968, fifty years before the first report would be released, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by an assassin on his motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mayor Bynum invoked this moment in his announcement of the Equality Indicators report last year, noting that Dr. King’s work was not finished.
“In Tulsa, we are trying to do out part… As you will see, we have a long way to go,” the mayor said, “I am thankful to live in a city that is willing to honestly assess racial disparity and work to end it.”
As the disparities in some of the indicators seem to have widened, there is no clear date set for the release of the second annual report.
One thing, however, is clear: a year after the release of the first report, Tulsa, for all of its efforts, like many cities across the nation, still has a long way to go.
Creating the change we envision requires us to unapologetically shed our neutrality for boldness, realize our responsibility to right our collective wrongs and get to work.
Nate Morris is a contributor to the Black Wall Street Times. Nate was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He received his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Nate is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area.