Editorial

TPD’s over-representation of whites and the department’s historic Klan ties

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Tulsa Police Department’s 2019 Academy Graduates


Published 08/08/2019 | Reading Time 3 min 8 sec 

By Nehemiah D. Frank

Can you find the one black police officer in the picture above? I only found one. Perhaps his nickname should be Barney Cleaver. 

Scanning the horizon looking for someone to identify with is the game that many black Americans play, so we can eliminate that feeling of being on our own. 

The validated bias that white officers will ever advocate for us is a real fear when we get pulled over.

‘God, I hope he’s black or nice,’ is the prayer we say as we place our hands on the steering wheel. My truth — I’ve never had an interaction with a black cop in Tulsa. 

And the evidence in the picture above of recent TPD officer graduates presents that there was no intention of recruiting more non-white officers in this recent academy. 

Sure, color doesn’t matter. But it matters if you want to live in a city that’s aiming for diversity and inclusion. It matters if you want more equality in Tulsa. 

The Mayor and Police Chief must be intentional if they want more racial balance in the Tulsa Police Department. 

White police officers are over-represented in the Tulsa Police Department (TPD). My statement isn’t meant to be an attack on white officers who swear to serve and protect Tulsans, nor is it an assertion for those who are already keenly aware of this issue.

Although some will disagree with my statement, I don’t believe that the majority of TPD officers are out to get black and brown people — today. 

My write up merely seeks to produce a rise in the level of consciousness regarding the root of why there is an underrepresentation of non-white police officers. 

The fact that whites represent 76.7% of the TPD force while only representing 57% of the total racial demographic and that blacks only represent 9.9% of TPD officers while representing 14.9% of the total population underscores the legacy of white supremacy in the city of Tulsa, which was to maintain white supremacy and white control as the status quo in the city.

For brown folks, that number is more acute; they only represent 2.6% of TPD officers while making up 14.6% of the population. 

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I’m thankful that we’re starting to correct that; however, that was just the tip of the long road we are still traveling on towards a more just Tulsa. 

Furthermore, white supremacy and white control are the reasons why TPD officers disarmed blacks during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and why it was illegal for black police officers to accuse, arrest, or charge any white Tulsa citizen of a crime. 

It’s the reason why, historically, blacks weren’t given the same opportunities as whites in every non-black operated institution in Tulsa.

The signals that white supremacy’s reign is coming to an end is why in this 5th decade of racial integration, blacks are just now starting to get somewhere after urban renewal.

We are working in city hall, serving on boards, serving at the head of major projects and corporations. Although we’re still very much underrepresented, things have gotten better in some aspects, but worse in other areas. Mass incarceration is a major problem in this state and black and brown folks are ironically over-represented in our jails and prisons. 

Editor’s Note: The following images list some of TPD and other professionals who were members of Klan from the late 1920s in the city of Tulsa. 

Courtesy of the University of Tulsa


The history of White Supremacy in TPD and in the city as a whole has a strong connection to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the reason why schools, streets, and parks were named after Klansman.

Although white supremacy was the status quo blacks were still allowed to serve as TPD officers, Barney Cleaver being the first TPD officer.

Nevertheless, Cleaver’s position came with stipulations. Officer Cleaver wasn’t allowed to arrest whites, even if they committed crimes.

My question today is: How much has the culture of the Tulsa Police Department changed since Barney Cleaver was hired as TPD’s first black police officer at the turn of the last century? 

We know under former TPD Police Chief Drew Diamond’s leadership that the hiring practices of black and brown police officers were higher than under the current administration.

Chief Diamond received much political harassment from two Republican City Councilors and the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). I think it should be noted that he was Jewish. The FOP handed Diamond a 458-65 vote of no confidence in 1991. The FOP was founded in 1915 and also has a history of Klan involvement in the city of Tulsa. 

The Klan was and is no friend to blacks nor Jews.

Questions remain that may point to the low recruitment and underrepresentation of black police officers and why black TPD officers felt the need to form the Tulsa Black Officers Coalition.

The Mayor and current Chief of the Tulsa Police Department set the cultural tone of the police force. They are responsible for how many black and brown officers are hired.

State Representative Regina Goodwin said it best at a recent city council meeting and on Facebook.

Are some of Tulsa’s leaders leary of having too many non-white folks with guns and badges in TPD?

Is the recruitment of non-white police officers not important enough; thus, they aren’t putting enough effort towards recruiting non-white police officers?

Is there a darker reason? Are some of Tulsa leaders still trying to maintain the status quo of yesterday’s practices in an effort to keep white supremacy as the city’s unspoken standard?


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Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, blogger for EdPost, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World. 

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Categories: Editorial