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Tulsa holds first Listening Session on racial disparities in Ei reports

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By BWSTimes 

TULSA, Okla. — Concerned citizens filled City Hall on a Wednesday evening for the highly anticipated and historic City Council Listening Sessions for community input and questions regarding the 2018 and 2019 Equality Indicator report, which revealed significant racial disparities between black and white citizens when in contact with the Tulsa Police Department. 

The objective of this first Listening Session was to address the racial and gender disparities in the police arrests of juveniles, as well as current practices in place, with the hope of improving outcomes on next year’s 2020 equality indicator report.

The current 2019 Ei report shows a significant disparity gap between black and white Tulsa teen arrest rates.

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During the community input and comment section, Bernice Alexander, a long-time north Tulsa resident, chose to use her comment time in protest against police brutality by turning her back towards the city council dais and podium. 

Councilor Phil Lakin, seemingly puzzled by the woman’s silent protest, tried to question the woman’s motive, but she remained unmoved by the councilor’s comments. 

She stood silently for the entire 3-minutes, and when her time was up and the timer buzzed, which was managed by Councilor Connie Dodson, Alexander’s only words to the council were, “thank you.”

Her husband, James Alexander, also spokeup and stated “It’s up to the mayor,” henting that the mayor is responsible for the racial disparity gap in youth arrest. 

Chief Chuck Jordan, of the TPD, wasn’t absent, and citizens didn’t fail to point-that-out during the comment session. 

Former Tulsa Police Department officer and homicide detective, Dave Walker was present and spoke at the podium. He said that “the numbers was the numbers” and “the numbers should be alarming for everyone.” Walker served the city of Tulsa as a TPD officer for 36-years. 

Walker said that the Equality Indicator numbers don’t reveal the type of youth arrest that officers made and went on to state that some youth are arrested for raping, killing, or robbing. 

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Courtesy of the Equal Justice Initiative 

Rochelle Willson told a traumatizing story of her 17-year-old daughter’s interaction with TPD officers. She described how a sea of cop cars and police officers questioned her daughter about four teenage African-American boys who were allegedly vandalizing trash cans in the area.  

Willson told the mayor and city councilors that the police officers weren’t verbally disrespectful, however, that the sheer fleet of cop cars and sea of police officers were enough to intimidate and traumatize her daughter and her daughter’s friends. 

When she filed a complaint, she was told that the incident was “the lowest level of force,” but that it would still be investigated; however, that the investigation may take a couple of months to receive any information back. 

She said that even the lowest level of force was unacceptable for her daughter.

“I feel that the Tulsa Police Department owes these teens an apology,” Williams said. 

Mandy Burch’s daughter was also present with William’s daughter that day. She described her daughter as being scared and confused by the number of police officers.

Burch said her outrage came when the officers said that four black boys were vandalizing trash cans and that it shouldn’t warrant a sea of cop cars and police officers.

“Why was any force used?” she said and added that the officers were “smiling while profiling.”

Emeka Nnaka, a community leader, told the story of a teenager, he knew, that shared a story of when he was a passenger in a stolen vehicle, while being chased by the cops. The teen stated that when the car had crashed all of friends jumped out the vehicle and ran. But he was caught by the police. 

He said he didn’t mind the officer taking him in but that it was the officer’s verbiage that made the teen think ill of the officer. He said that the cop told him, ” I hope the first time you get to jail you get bent over.” 

Nnaka said that he hopes to find more officers that can lead with their hearts and not with their badges. 

Benjamin Imlay, a middle school teacher at Collegiate Hall, spoke about implicit biases.

“To say that you hold an implicit bias is not saying that you’re a racist. But, I wonder if the lack of urgency and TPD’s absence in these discussions or even Jordan’s failure to admit that race is a factor here — maybe stems from a fear of being called a racist?” Imlay said.  

After tonight’s listening session we asked Mayor GT Bynum if he had spoken with Chief Jordan about attending the meetings. Here’s what he told us: “We hadn’t had a discussion as to why he would or wouldn’t be in attendance tonight.” 

The next public Listening Session will be held this Saturday, June 22 at the Rudisill Regional Library from 10 am to 2 pm to coincide with the Demanding a JUSTulsa’s community resource fair.

Teenagers or families, whose kids or teens have had negative contact with TPD, are highly encouraged to attend and share their stories with the councilors.

If families or kids/teens feel uncomfortable sharing their story publically, they are encourged to write or contact city concilors at: info@tulsacouncil.org

To hear more of the stories from the first Listening Session:

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