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OPINION | By Kojo Asamoa-Caesar
A citizens group, Demanding a JUSTulsa, released a letter yesterday challenging why the mayor felt compelled to speak up at last week’s city council meeting for the sole purpose of defending the actions of the Tulsa Police Department. The mayor responded with his own statement, taking issue with the letter’s “chiding me for offering my own viewpoint….” The mayor is right. He should not be chided for sharing his perspective. We as citizens should say, “duly noted.” Now that we know where he stands, it is our duty to challenge him where he sits.
Let’s rewind to the origins of this back and forth. At last week’s Tulsa City Council meeting, citizens described an encounter they witnessed between Tulsa Police Department officers and residents of Town Square, a predominantly black neighborhood. They shared how police officers in unmarked cars descended upon the community and began questioning young black residents sitting in a parked car. This “gang task force” as they are referred to by the residents, descends upon this community every Tuesday and residents have stated that they feel “terrorized” by this force.
After the speakers had finished sharing their stories about the encounter, the mayor asked to speak and shared that he was present at the scene on that particular night and saw something entirely different from what was described by the speakers. He defended the police officers and emphasized the level of respect and the tone with which the officers posed their questions to residents. He suggested that the questioning of occupants of a parked car was justified because their VIN number was covered up and he made the point that this is the kind of proactive policing that is necessary to address crime in these neighborhoods.
The mayor has every right to share his support for policing black communities via stop-question-and-request-ID. That seems to be Tulsa’s version of stop-and-frisk.
He has every right to share his belief that racial disparities in policing and the use of force are not due to racial bias in policing but rather to poor black people and high crime in black neighborhoods.
He has every right to share that his solution for poor black neighborhoods that are causing these disparities is more police presence and occupation of those poor black neighborhoods. And according to the mayor, as long as the police are nice and respectful in their questioning, it’s all good.
He has every right to show his police department that he stands behind them, even if (or better yet, especially if) it is at the expense of alienating the black community.
I want to congratulate the mayor for receiving the support of the police union after the comments he made at last week’s city council meeting. In his comments, he said that the police union was trying to find a candidate to run against him in 2020. It sounds like that was weighing heavy on his mind. So his comments must’ve done the trick because after the meeting, the police union released a statement supporting the mayor’s viewpoint.
As for us; the ones who believe in freedom for everyone, the ones who cannot rest until it comes; we can now stop going back and forth about where the mayor really stands when it comes to issues of policing and justice as it relates to communities of color. We can now stop posting Assata Shakur quotes like this on one day: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” And then posting full-throated support for the mayor the next day thanking him for being such a bold and courageous champion for our community and how proud we are to have him as our mayor.
The mayor has every right to offer up his viewpoint. And we have every right to demand that we want better; that we want to be treated equally under the law; that we will not settle for second-class citizenship. It is 2019; we don’t got time. We have to make up our mind. After all, “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
Mr. Asamoa-Caesar’s passion is to build communities where everyone can achieve their highest potential. He believes education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world, and he wakes up and works hard every day to do just that.