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Published 01/22/2020 | Reading Time 3 min 17 sec
By Deon Osborne, Senior Writer
Tulsa Mayor Bynum’s stubborn refusal to cancel the police department’s renewed partnership with entertainment television program Live PD means black Tulsans must record the encounters on video in order to stop the harassment.
As more and more black Tulsans express instances of being stopped illegally by Tulsa Police Department in order to be filmed on Live PD, Marq Lewis of “We the People” offered the Mayor a way to mend the divide between police and marginalized residents when he asked the Mayor to immediately end the contract at a community meeting organized by the city at the Rudisill Library.
Despite the Mayor’s Office organizing the January meeting to hear questions and concerns over the process of hiring the next police chief, Bynum instead doubled down on his refusal to end the Live PD contract, saying it offers an educational experience into the day to day lives of patrol officers.
Yet, when former Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan chose not to renew the contract with Live PD in 2016 as black residents expressed similar grievances of harassment, the Mayor supported the former Chief’s decision, quoted in a Tulsa World article saying “ His job and my job is to keep the citizens of Tulsa safe, not providing fodder for reality TV,” Bynum said.
Here in 2020, the Mayor has made it clear that more discussions won’t change his mind. The only way for black North Tulsans to defend themselves from further harassment and to prove their lived realities–either in the court of public opinion or a court for civil lawsuits–is to record the encounter on video.
It’s absurd for Bynum to claim Live PD protects police officers from false allegations of misconduct and offers transparency for the public when we already have bodycams that were designed precisely for those purposes.
Perhaps the Mayor is seeking more transparency with Live PD because some of his officers are known to turn off their bodycams whenever they wish. That fact was confirmed by one of Tulsa’s own police officers at a recent meet-and-greet with the four finalists for the Police Chief position.
Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen acknowledged that some of his officers turn their cameras off, and he pledged to end the deceitful practice if chosen to lead the department.
If Mayor Bynum’s claims about the educational value of Live PD’s partnership with Tulsa Police were honest, wouldn’t it make sense for him to first require all bodycams remain turned on? If the point of bodycams was to ensure both the perspectives of citizens and police are accurately portrayed without bias, then why not focus on bodycams rather than a tv show that is incentivized to edit the videos in favor of a positive police perception?
Why bring the show back to Tulsa after canceling it in the first place unless the city recognized some immediately tangible benefit?
Regardless of the personal or political reasons that Mayor Bynum chooses to take a stand in favor of Live PD, the reality is that Mayor Bynum is engaged in a marketing battle between marginalized citizens who feel harassed and exploited for entertainment, and Tulsa police officers with a long history of oppressing the communities from which those marginalized citizens live.
A mayor who champions the phrase “One Tulsa” is actively, even if inadvertently, dividing the city by encouraging residents to decide between supporting police or black and brown Tulsans.
Ignoring his most marginalized voters, a former police chief, and members of his own council, Mayor Bynum is sending a message that he is elevating the interests of an outside entertainment company at the expense of his black residents.
But it would be unwise to mistake black Tulsans’ restraint in the face of continued injustices as weakness.
Even as Live PD continues to patrol Tulsa streets, several other cities have canceled their contracts with the show.
Cities in Connecticut, Ohio and South Carolina have refused to renew their contracts in recent years, and as recently as January 17, the NAACP has called for the city of Terre Hauta, Indiana to end their contract over concerns of low-income residents being portrayed as guilty on live TV in front of families, friends, neighbors and employers before having their day in court.
While Tulsa’s Mayor attempts to publicize himself as a champion for black massacre victims on one hand and a champion for police on the other, black North Tulsans seeking reprieve from further transgressions by local government will have to use the only effective weapon at their disposal: cell phone video.
Regardless of whether Live PD’s partnership with Tulsa Police Department will be settled in the court of public opinion or litigated in some form of a civil lawsuit, if the encounter isn’t filmed by the oppressed, then the oppressor will always rewrite the narrative.
Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works at a local youth shelter. He is also a former intern at Oklahoma Policy Institute.