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Published 10/10/19 | Reading Time 4 min 33 sec
By Julie Skye
On Thursday, September 12th, a room of about 100 people gathered to hear the Human Rights Watch present their work in Tulsa, following Terrence Crutcher’s death by shooting, of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
As I entered the 36 North Event Center, I saw stacks of the report, “Get on the Ground” neatly bound, with that chilling image of Terrence Crutcher walking with his back to police officers, hands raised. Many of the same faces that often attend these meetings on social justice where there, and one of the first faces that greeted me was the lead investigative journalist of this report, John Rathling.
While we all hope that we can do what compassion asks of us each day; “To put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and to do to them what we would want them to do to us,” the reality is this is often pretty tough for most people to do. When I think about Terrence, there is nothing about his death that falls into this definition of compassion.
I cannot imagine what Terrence was feeling in his last few minutes of life any more than I can imagine what it would feel like to be terrified of my son’s 16th birthday, a day when most kids are thrilled to get their driver’s license.
As a white woman, I’ve listened to black and brown members of my community talk, for years, about their fears when their child walks out of their home, car keys in hand, to begin the dangerous activity of driving while brown. We’ve all heard these fears so often, but have we become immune to them? Why haven’t we been able to step into their shoes and change their reality?
As a founding member of Compassionate Tulsa, I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours over the last five years on the topic of what compassion looks like to other people and how it turns up in our community.
I look for those moments when we find Compassion In Action; where we know it when we see it, and I look for ways to celebrate it.
This definition takes compassion from being a noun to being an action; “Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world.”
When something, or someone, is so important to you that your well-being is tied up in their well-being, you behave differently. Whether it was deliberate or unintentional, you stop making excuses and look to fix what you broke. Most of us can think — of someone we love — like this, and in a perfect world, when we do something that hurts those we care about, we look for how we can make amends.
I grew up in Detroit in the 1960s in a tumultuous, violent time of civil rights protests, and images of police violence have shaped me in a way that dominates my life to this day.
I am single-mindedly focused on criminal justice reform, specifically, over-policing and police violence against communities of color. My well-being is wholly tied to the well-being of those who suffer at the hands of our police force.
After the members of the panel spoke and opened the floor for questions from the audience, I could feel my heart pounding, and I knew I was done with that elephant in the room. I was done with meetings where we knew what we needed to make meaningful, lasting, and real change happen.
As I took the microphone and stood up to face the audience, I didn’t really know what I was about to say. I just knew that I could not stand for one more minute and pretend that every person in that room didn’t know exactly what needed to happen.
I gave a short bio of my work on Smart Growth Tulsa’s board as we developed a thought piece on what Tulsa needed to do to create a police force that would bring more economic growth and prosperity to Tulsa.
I shared how Mayor Bynum appointed me to the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing Task Force in 2016 and how the many relationships I built over the following years have led me to the absolute sense of anger, despair and feelings of futility that overwhelms me today.
Activists think logic and the right combination of facts will finally make real, lasting change happen.
Weekly, articles from powerful, beloved voices like Drew Diamond, Barry Friedman, Damion Shade, D’Marria Monday, Nehemiah Frank, Bill Kellough, Chris Moore, Wayne Greene, and even cartoonist Bruce Plante are published. Each presents the facts and what we want Tulsa’s leadership to do.
It is as if we think the scales of justice will finally be so heavy on the ‘justice side’ that there will be a tipping point and the lightweights will lose their power and the grip they have on our city!
The good, compassionate people of Tulsa hope and pray that reason will prevail, that the voices of so many who have suffered will be heard, and that finally the changes we need to launch Tulsa into an era of true community policing — where the guardian mentality for once and all replaces the warrior mentality can begin.
As I spoke to the audience at the Human Rights Watch event in September, I said out loud, what has been spoken and written around the edges so many times, but I have not seen it put out in bold headlines.
I asked the question: “What are white people afraid of” and then I offered a few examples of why we are stifled and silent — why white people stand for the disparities that come to people of color.
I then stated I am asking for Mayor Bynum to have Chief Jordan step down and to launch a national search for a new Chief of Police to bring to Tulsa — real community policing.
I closed my remarks by asking the HRW panel what white people are afraid of, and Greg Robinson from the MetCares Foundation answered, “I think they are afraid of losing their power.”
After I got home, I emailed Mayor Bynum and told him I would be starting a ‘NO CONFIDENCE’ initiative to remove Chief Jordan and for the city to begin a national search for a new police chief.
My goal is for Tulsa to have new leadership and a fresh face of community policing in place by the centennial year memorial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, June 1st, 2021.
Tulsa, we are on the right side of history here.
Racheal Maddow told the Book Smart audience last Saturday that Oklahomans have a history of making real change happen. Well, Tulsa, this is OUR time. It is time to make THIS change happen.
Julie Skye is a member of the Unitarian Universalists Association’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investment Committee and represents the UUA at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. She is on the Board of Tulsa Interfaith Alliance; is a member of Sustainable Tulsa, is on Green Country Sierra Club’s Executive Committee, is on the Compassionate Tulsa Steering Wheel and the Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, “Mosaic.” As a member of All Souls Unitarian Church, she is on the Green Team and Criminal Justice Committee. Julie was appointed to Tulsa’s Community Policing Commission in 2017 and was appointed to the Citizen’s Jail Oversight and Review Committee by Sheriff Vic Regalado. She worked on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in 2001, following the recommendations made by the Oklahoma Legislature in the journey towards reparations.