Courtesy of JusTulsa
Publisher’s Note: A local advocacy group against police brutality issued the following letter on September 9, 2019 to the Office of the Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum and to the following city councilors: Phil Lakin, Ben Kimbro, Jeannie Cue, Connie Dodson, Cass Fahler, Vanessa Hall-Harper, Kara Joy McKee, Crista Patrick and Lori Decter Wright.
On behalf of Demanding A JustTulsa, we write to address the current state of policing in Tulsa and express concerns about the possibility that the city may adopt an oversight model that neither includes independent authority nor significant community collaboration. In a May 31, 2018 letter, Tulsan stakeholders, community members and national advocates recommended, among other things, investigations of serious police use of force incidents by an independent agency.
We are hopeful that the mayor’s choice to pull the current ordinance signals efforts from his office to deeply engage the members of our community most directly affected by racial disparities in policing. Generations of inaction have led us to this critical moment in our city and we believe deeply in our collective opportunity, as the mayor has stated to the city council, to “get this right”.
We want to also make clear that, in spite of the disappointing suggestions of at least one city councilor, this is not about politics; in fact, this moment should transcend politics. The voices calling for change span a multitude of lines of difference, including political ideology, because we understand that this is about saving lives, building trust and fighting to make Tulsa the type of city we all believe it can be. The city council is, by design, a non-partisan legislative body, and we appreciate those councilors who continue to work in that spirit.
We also vehemently reject the ignorant and distressing comments from the District 5 councilor which suggest that our fellow Tulsans who have been victims of racially biased policing “are not willing to take responsibility for their actions”. This statement, made just before the final community listening session, suggests a callousness to the stories of our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors who have chosen to vulnerably to share their experiences and publicly bare their pain in order to drive toward change. We, and the majority of Tulsans, stand alongside them in this continued fight to build a better and more just city.
As we enter into the final community listening session and final special meeting, we urge the mayor and the council as a whole to be intentional about listening deeply to the concerns and stories of Tulsans who will be most directly affected by a continued failure to act. The stories, concerns, input, demands, calls for action and express consent from our fellow Tulsans of color should be at the forefront of policy changes aimed at shifting a system which has perpetuated issues of racial disparity since the city’s inception.
Many community members, organizations and commissions have already, on multiple occasions, delivered clear and explicit recommendations to the mayor to strengthen a potential office of oversight.
These include calls that any oversight models applied to TPD must meaningfully provide a solution to the community’s primary concern: racial disparities and bias in the practices of the Tulsa Police Department, with little accountability or oversight. The lack of transparency and independent review and resolution of civilian complaints are impediments to unbiased policing in Tulsa. Since June 2019, community members and the City Council have held hearings and listening sessions where Tulsans and experts detailed concerning trends within the Tulsa Police Department regarding youth arrests, illegal stops and searches and officer hiring and retention. These sessions, filled with raw and painful community member accounts of TPD excessive force, unnecessary arrests and a skewed interpretation of ‘community policing,’ further supported the alarming 2018 and 2019 Tulsa Equality Indicators Annual Report scores that make clear TPD policing practices are racially discriminatory toward Tulsans of color. The hearings and listening sessions made clear that countless TPD inequities go unnoticed and/or unaddressed in an effective fashion and that, had community members not pushed for public sessions, crucial conversations around these discriminatory practices would not have taken place and any movement toward real change would have remained stagnant.
Tulsans are often unaware of some officers’ violent or discriminatory histories even though those officers are tasked with policing their communities. Worse, civilian complaints are not prioritized or reviewed outside of TPD’s own staff. Given this, we emphasize that any oversight model must incorporate rigorous transparency requirements and give the oversight entity authority to view, investigate, and make findings on all civilian complaints alleging officer misconduct.
With regard to critical incidents, such as a shooting death, we believe that an investigation must take place through an outside organization completely independent of the Tulsa Police Department. To honor this long-standing community demand, any future oversight organization must be given the ability to conduct an independent investigation whenever there is a police-involved shooting, attempted shooting, or in-custody death. As Tulsans who have witnessed numerous shootings and deaths of fellow Tulsans at the hands to the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), we stand by this recommendation. Specifically, we argue that any oversight models that Mayor Bynum recommends or the Tulsa City Council approves, must include an explicit requirement that an independent body automatically conduct a thorough investigation in every TPD-involved shooting or death in TPD custody. Moreover, to ensure true accountability, this oversight body must have complete authority to investigate and release its findings, without the approval from any other entity—including TPD.
By contrast, the previously proposed Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) had no authority to remain independent or to ensure complete TPD accountability and transparency. Instead, the OIM, as it was presented, would have lacked strong community oversight and would have been beholden to the Tulsa Police Department for information and enactment of its recommendations, and would act as an auditor rather than a monitor; failing to meet its own intended purpose and failing to be an institution which would truly restore public trust.
Some have suggested that the city leverage the OSBI in lieu of in-house oversight. It is clear that this would not be effective given the current back-up in the case-load of the agency and the inherent issues that would come with removing local control and instead increasing the size and scope of the state government.
Instead, we ask that our elected officials look intentionally at successful models of oversight in cities across the country (Denver, Nashville, Seattle, etc.) and create a model which clearly lives up to this intended purpose. Where there are continued questions of legality regarding a collective bargaining agreement, these specific areas of legal tension should made public in an effort to truly engage in a transparent fashion which promotes trust.
We recognize and are deeply appreciative of those councilors who worked tirelessly to craft the OIM following the Mayor’s proposal. However, given the aforementioned shortcomings of the previously proposed OIM and in light of the mayor’s recent decision to propose a new form of oversight, we ask both Mayor Bynum and the City Council to take the time to find out what true police oversight looks like to Tulsans of color—those who TPD has vowed to lawfully protect and serve, but has drastically failed given all of the data presented.
We know that there are officers on TPD’s force who are working diligently to correct this trend in their daily practice. We have consistently stated that this call for change rests on the institution as a whole – not on individual officers. Unfortunately, stagnation in the push for change at the top from TPD’s current leadership has proven that oversight is critical in changing root causes of toxic culture, discriminatory practices and the devastating outcomes they produce.
Throughout the entirety of this process, we can never fail to remember that whenever an officer chooses to engage in discriminatory policing practices, fails to adhere to TPD policy, or hides illegal conduct, community members bear the cost. More specifically, Tulsa’s Black and brown residents have borne the cost of TPD’s unremedied discriminatory practices through lost liberty, unnecessary stops, searches and arrests, as well as excessive and often deadly use of force for years. If Tulsa’s leadership is serious about enacting true police reform and meaningful change that will end TPD’s unmoved and scathingly low Equality Indicators scores, it must collaborate with community members to understand and implement the best, and most effective, oversight model for Tulsa. Without community collaboration, the very patterns brought to light during the hearings and listening sessions will remain.
As such, we hope that the mayor and council members understand that the concerns highlighted in this letter are not derived solely from the thoughts and conversations of a single group, but are reflective of the concerns felt by many in the broader Tulsa community. We believe that proximity is key to deeply understanding the issues facing our Black and brown citizens with regard to justice and policing, and encourage our councilors to engage deeply with these communities in order to create an ordinance and an oversight office that truly best serves them.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss further the above content and recommendations in a meeting. Please feel free to contact Reverend Chris Moore (918.947.7777) to schedule a mutually convenient time to meet. Again, we urge the mayor and council to engage in intentionally soliciting input on any future proposal to ensure that those living in communities most directly affected by disparate policing practices are heard and their concerns are undeniably addressed. This is our chance to create impactful and significant change for the future of Tulsa and we look forward to continuing the fight to make Tulsa a just and equitable city for everyone who calls it home.
Demanding a JusTulsa