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Illustration by Marlin Lavanhar
Published 06/12/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 51 sec
Op-Ed By Kojo Asamoa-Caesar, candidate for Congress in Oklahoma’s 1st District.
I am a man, a Black man who feels, with the announcement of Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally, our elected leaders have left us out naked and in the cold at a moment when we most need them.
President Trump is coming to Tulsa to hold his first political rally since the coronavirus began to ravage our nation. He is coming here to speak, on Juneteenth, in an arena just a mile and a half away from historic Black Wall Street, in order to appropriate the painful history of its Black residents for political theatre. He knows he can get away with such callous behavior because our high-ranking elected leaders do not care about Black lives.
Our governor, Kevin Stitt, is in fact the one who is reported to have reached out to the Trump campaign to beg them, unsuccessfully, to relocate the Republican National Convention to our state. His efforts prompted White House officials to select Tulsa as the site of Trump’s first post-COVID rally.
Our 1st district congressional representative, Kevin Hern, a Trump sycophant, immediately and gleefully posted on social media to gloat about the news of the impending arrival of his boss and then sent out a fundraising email telling residents to welcome Trump by donating to his congressional campaign.
Our mayor, G.T. Bynum, our last line of defense, sent out a statement via his Facebook page tossing out an empty platitude in defense of the rally. He said we must “protect the free exchange of ideas,” and then went on to equate Trump’s rally with the last two weeks of protests by residents marching for justice. Even if he doesn’t possess the power to disallow the event, he missed a great opportunity to register heartfelt sentiments on behalf of a segment of his constituency who feel it’s open season on their lives.
In this moment when we are most in need of courageous leaders, we are instead all suffering from a gross dereliction of leadership. And if you happen to be a Black resident of this city, the actions of our leaders feel downright hostile.
I have some questions for our elected leaders: How can you aid and abet, or at best, stand by, while vile men prey on those they’ve sworn to serve and protect? What do you care more about: loyalty to your party and your political future or your commitment to protect the lives of your Black residents? Those questions almost sound rhetorical. After all, how can you say you care about Black lives when you’re failing to lead in a state that has the highest incarceration rate for Black people, while at the same time being among the nation’s leaders in cuts to education funding?
How can you say you care about Black lives when you reject federal dollars to provide your poorest residents, many of whom are Black, with healthcare because the plan is named after the first Black president?
How can you justify this behavior when the life expectancy of Tulsa’s Black residents is 10 years less than its white residents?
Even in a COVID-19 world, where Black people are disproportionately affected by this deadly virus, how can you keep fighting the efforts by citizens to expand Medicaid?
How can you say you care about Black lives when you declare on national television that the police shooting and killing of an unarmed black man in our city was justified because the victim was using drugs?
To add insult to death, you have not yet removed a senior police officer who declared publicly that police are actually shooting black people less than they ought to be.
All this is happening, no less, in a community that was once the most prosperous Black community in the nation, until white residents burned it down and massacred its residents in 1921.
As we head into the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, a horrific and racist event, let’s make no mistake about it: our leaders did not care about Black lives then, and our leaders do not care about Black lives now. If they did, they would not be rolling out the red carpet, celebrating and capitulating to the most racist president we’ve had in our modern history.
Kojo Asamoa-Caesar is a husband, father to a newborn baby girl, the son of immigrants, a proud product of public schools and a law school graduate who chose to become a kindergarten teacher in Oklahoma. He is running for Congress to represent the 1st District of Oklahoma.