Oklahoma policing under review by the United States Commission on Civil Rights

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
oklahoma civil rights

The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Committee) issued an Advisory Memorandum on police practices in the state on June 1 of this year, and recounted its impact on individuals and communities of color.

oklahoma civil rights

Screenshot of a clip that was taken by a resident of the Tulsa, Oklahoma neighborhood where two boys aged 15 and 13 were handcuffed on June 4, 2020 for jaywalking on an empty street with no sidewalks. (Video Screenshot)

The Committee issued the memorandum after a series of public hearings and with testimony provided by researchers, law enforcement officials, community advocates, and government officials.

Yet, the results that were found don’t come as a surprise to Black Oklahomans.

Investigation reveals disparities

Oklahoma continues to have one of the top three highest incarceration rates of any state in the U.S. and has the highest rate of police use of force incidents, according to the memorandum. In 2018, the Human Rights Watch did an in-depth investigation of policing and racial inequality in Tulsa; they found that Black residents are 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than White residents.

The investigation also revealed that traffic stops are not only more frequent in the predominantly Black and poor sections of the city, but they also last longer, with a greater likelihood of removal from the vehicle, search, questioning and arrest.

Since 2015, Oklahoma has had 165 fatal police shootings and of these shootings, 32 involved Black individuals. This means that roughly 19% of fatal shootings affect Black people, while only 7.8% of Oklahoma’s population is Black.

Tulsa Police known for outspoken anti-Black racism

The Tulsa Police Department came under public scrutiny in June 2020 for racial discrimination following the public remarks of one of its officers, Major Travis Yates, on a radio show. Yates stated that police officers were “shooting African-Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”

The Tulsa Police Department announced that it would be investigating Yates following the remarks and both the mayor of Tulsa and a Black officers’ coalition publicly denounced his comments. The same week, the Tulsa Police Department was also investigating the stop and arrest of two Black teenagers who were accused of jaywalking. Body camera footage showed one of the teens being forced to the ground and kicked by officers.

Findings from the investigation

  1. There is a history of racist policing, both in Oklahoma and nationally, that may still have effects today.

a. The Tulsa Massacre, perpetuated by the Sheriff’s deputies at the time, still impacts Oklahoma’s relationship with policing and race today.

b. Historically, policing was sometimes used to enforce discrimination including, Jim Crow laws, Black codes, stop and frisk, and other discriminatory norms.

  1. There are known racial disparities in police interactions in Oklahoma, including arrest rates, incarceration, use of force, and stops and searches. Some of these disparities seem to be growing.

a. Stops and searches in Black neighborhoods are more frequent and last longer. Several north Tulsa neighborhoods were experiencing over 200 stops per thousand residents while in White and wealthier neighborhoods it was less than 10 stops per thousand.

b. Black people in Oklahoma are significantly more likely to be arrested. In Tulsa, Black people are three times more likely to be arrested than White people and account for 36% of arrests.

c. Black people make up 38% of the use-of-force incidents in Oklahoma and are five times more likely to be victims of use of force.

d. Only 8% of the population in Oklahoma is Black, but 23% of the people incarcerated in Oklahoma are Black.

e. The disparities persist with youth as well. Tulsa Police Department arrests Black youths at three times the rate of their White counterparts.

More findings

  1. Poverty, crime, and race are fundamentally connected in a way that produces consequences impacted by policing practices.

a. Many communities that see high rates of policing are also under-resourced in mental health services, substance addiction treatment, education, and healthcare.

b. Residents of north Tulsa, a mostly Black community, have a life expectancy of around 11 years shorter than White neighborhoods in Tulsa.

c. Arrest rates are greatly impacted by opportunities in both education and employment. In Tulsa, Black unemployment is 2.4 times higher than White employment.

  1. There is insufficient transparency on police practices, data, and accountability in Oklahoma.

a. Tulsa Police Department does not collect data on race or nationality for stops and detentions or if officers conducted searches. This lack of demographic data makes monitoring disparities almost impossible.

b. Current policies and practices for investigating and disciplining officers based on citizens’ complaints are rarely communicated to the public in a timely and clear manner.

For the complete list of findings and recommendations of the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, click here.

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3 comments

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