Published 06/15/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 7 sec
Op-Ed By Laura Bellis, educator and community organizer
In his public appearances, Mayor GT Bynum often shares that he wanted to become mayor to address the 11-year life-expectancy gap between zip codes in north Tulsa and south Tulsa. There is a disparity in life-expectancies that show Black Tulsans live shorter lives than white Tulsans. Bynum admirably began his campaign by making this a core part of his platform.
In 2018, Mayor Bynum’s office launched the city’s first Equality Indicators report, which is a collection of data analyzed by race and ethnicity. These Indicators convey substantial racial disparities in health outcomes, access to resources, and economic opportunity within the city.
The findings of the Equality Indicators report illuminate the drivers of the life expectancy gap and show how limited access to healthcare and educational resources help exacerbate and perpetuate disparities among different races and ethnicities.
These findings are indisputable, and yet, despite the data and the mayor’s stated commitment to eliminating the inequity in life-expectancy, the question remains: Why would GT Bynum actively allow an event that will, in high probability, cut lives short?
The impending campaign rally, scheduled for June 20th at the BOK Center, is likely the largest indoor event to occur since the outbreak of the global pandemic. On June 13th, Tulsa Health Department director Dr. Bruce Dart raised serious concerns about the event’s timing. Dr. Dart cited the recent unprecedented COVID-19 case increases in Tulsa County, among other concerns.
The disproportionate health and economic impacts of COVID-19 on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities are well documented. The June 20th event will directly impact Tulsans who currently face the greatest barriers to healthcare access: part-time workers at the BOK Center without health insurance, service-industry employees in low-wage jobs, and all workers employed at businesses who will serve the rally attendees from across the region and country.
This event will amplify the disparities spelled out in the Equality Indicators and disproportionately impact communities of color. There will surely be studies of this lethal and extremely ill-advised event after the fact, and tracing the outcomes and impacts across the region will prove costly.
Reparations are already long overdue to Tulsa’s Black community, and once the impacts of the rally are measured in full further reparations will absolutely be owed to those most impacted.
These concerns are not just about those who will be infected with COVID-19, possibly leading to their death. Severe cases of the virus can leave people with ongoing health challenges, like lung-scarring, and can also shorten life spans in ways the world does not yet know. People will flood in from across Oklahoma and from hotspots in other states for this event. The attendees will inhabit the BOK center most likely without wearing masks or adhering to recommended social distancing guidelines. They will be confined indoors for several hours and will then carry the virus back to their homes and surrounding communities.
The June 20th rally will most likely become a super-spreader event that will yield the kind of increases that overwhelm hospitals and force businesses to close, overly impacting communities of color and rural communities that have limited hospital access. Tulsa, Oklahoma, and surrounding states will see their work to prevent the virus from spreading effectively erased.
Mayor Bynum has the power pursuant to Title 8, Tulsa Revised Ordinances, Section 200 and the Oklahoma Emergency Management Act, 63 O.S. § 683.3, to place a moratorium on large indoor gatherings, or to at least limit their size. This is a public health issue and not a political one. Lives are on the line.
Mayor Bynum has consistently conveyed that he is data-driven and a frequent reader of historical nonfiction. The data is clear on the danger with an event like this, and history — what happened in Philadelphia in 1918 — should make clear the threat to our community as well. This moment calls for Mayor Bynum to hold firm to his commitment and prevent lives from being needlessly cut short.
Do the Right Thing, Mayor Bynum!
Laura Bellis is an educator and community organizer. She is a founding member of The United League for Social Action (TULSA), a research and advocacy organization focused on transparency and accountability from law enforcement, and currently serves as chair of the Human Rights Commission of the City of Tulsa.