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By Deon Osborne and Nate Morris
As the country reels from an epidemic of shootings, Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin chose to attack protesters on Twitter rather than work collectively to address the root causes of gun violence.
“More than 100 shots were fired in the City’s latest homicide on Saturday night. Last night more than 60 shots were fired at a shooting scene. Surely protesters are organizing against such violence!! Without much fanfare and limelight @TulsaPolice has been working the problem,” Police Chief Franklin tweeted on Monday.
Franklin could’ve used his platform to logically bring people together around solutions to the flurry of bullets flying in the community. Instead, the tweet acted as an emotional clap back at protesters who’ve dared to decry police abuse.
Just over one year ago, Franklin and Mayor Bynum joined protestors in a room after a weekend of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Together, in an extensive three-hour meeting, the group agreed to work toward greater police oversight and accountability, end LIVE PD, work toward justice for the Crutcher family and dramatically increase funding for mental health resources. Franklin himself also agreed to work to shift internal practices so the department could quickly remove officers who abuse their power. Since that time, however, very few of these promises have been kept.
For more than 16 months, Americans have been living in a constant state of trauma. The pandemic, racial uprisings, economic downturn, escalating climate change and the rise of White nationalism have contributed to a nationwide increase in violent crime.
Gun violence: an epidemic within a pandemic
Victims of violent crime (particularly gun violence), and the communities torn apart by them, can’t afford for public servants to use their platform as a political pulpit. Rather than seeking common ground, Franklin’s tweet only further divided some of the very constituents he swore to protect and serve. At the same time, it failed to address the systemic issue of gun violence in any meaningful way.
To be sure, the U.S. has increasingly suffered from an epidemic of shootings for decades now, despite conservative, political attempts to limit or block research on the issue.
Alarmingly, the U.S. has the 28th highest rate of gun deaths in the world, and Black Americans suffer 10 times more gun deaths and 15 times more gun assaults than their White peers.
Studies continue to indicate that using the criminal justice system as the primary tool to address gun violence further contributes to the mass policing and mass incarceration of low-income communities of color without systematically reducing the rate of shootings.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, policies that promote social and economic justice would have a more direct and longer lasting impact on curbing gun violence than “inequitable retribution” in the form of a heavier police presence, more force, or more arrests.
The center also notes that gun control policies to address mass shootings, such as red flag laws and bans on automatic rifles, have less of an impact on daily, community shootings. To address these types of shootings, tackling the root causes ultimately prove most effective.
The root causes of gun violence
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) notes that there are several factors that make up the root causes of daily gun violence, such as: income inequality, poverty, underfunded public housing, under-resourced public services, underperforming schools, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, and easy access to firearms by high-risk people.
Marginalized communities such as those in Tulsa often suffer from several, if not all of these negative factors.
In Tulsa, the median household income for a White family is roughly double that of a Black family, according to the city’s 2020 Tulsa Equality Indicators report. Nationally, the median Black family earns 61 cents for every dollar a median White family owns, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
When it comes to housing, Tulsa holds the title of the 11th highest eviction rate, with Black families and other families of color more likely to be evicted nationally than White families.
In education, Oklahoma’s continues to rank near the bottom nationally. The state maintains a heavy and ever-growing reliance on emergency certified teachers who are expected to manage overcrowded and underfunded classrooms with just weeks of training.
While work has been done on the state and national level to address the lack of mental health resources for youth, Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of childhood trauma, which ultimately can lead to unhealthy choices and a turn to drugs or violence.
All of these factors contribute to the gun violence taking place across marginalized communities. Oklahoma’s decision to remove any permit requirements for guns exacerbated these factors by giving high-risk individuals easier access to them.
Police Chief Wendell Franklin’s tweet divides community, hinders trust
Instead of highlighting any of these variables that contribute to the dangerous calls for service Chief Franklin’s officers are tasked with addressing, he decided it was a better idea to further divide by creating an “us versus them” mentality in the community.
It’s entirely possible that after a year of mass uprisings against police lynchings and abuse police officers feel demoralized about doing their jobs. And we empathize with the difficulty this chief has faced in his first year on the job. And yet, this is the job he chose to step into.
Community members have made clear they are willing to work alongside the chief and his department in this push for change. However, that call for collaboration must be returned.
It is not the inherent responsibility of residents to help engage in the business of solving violent crimes. Similarly, it is irresponsible to cast aspersions on the community for calling on their public servants to serve them better.
In the U.S. Constitution, the founders tasked the citizens of this nation to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Protesters didn’t shut down streets and highways from Minneapolis to Tulsa because they hate police or because they want to shield lawbreakers. It was a cry for justice and a desire to end inequitable policing practices that disproportionately target, arrest and kill Black men.
Police Chief Franklin’s comments suggesting that protesters who call out police misconduct should be equally calling out community violence represent a false equivalency. Residents who commit crimes are expected to be apprehended and indicted, yet police officers who commit crimes are rarely held to the same standard.
Chief should join community organizers instead of denigrating them
Franklin’s tweet also ignores the fact that addressing the root causes of community violence is one of the Terence Crutcher Foundation’s leading initiatives.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher founded the organization following the public Tulsa Police lynching of her brother, Terence, by bullets from former TPD officer Betty Shelby. Despite the fact that Shelby was rewarded with a new job in law enforcement one county over for murdering a civilian, we haven’t seen Dr. Crutcher go on Twitter to denigrate all police officers. What she and other “protesters” have done is use community organizing to push for systemic solutions.
“The Terence Crutcher Foundation will partner with community organizations, churches, businesses, and city officials to combat gun violence and crime in our most vulnerable neighborhoods through prayer, mentorship, and community policing efforts. Our goal is to promote unity and address the root causes of crime and violence versus the symptoms, encouraging a more proactive approach rather than a reactive one,” according to their website.
Twitter users clap back at Chief Franklin
Furthermore, activist groups like Moms Demand Action have been working tirelessly for years to combat mass shootings in our society. Yet, according to one member of the group, their lobbying efforts at the Oklahoma Capitol were often met with resistance by law enforcement officers. Ultimately, they tried and failed to defeat Oklahoma’s permitless carry law.
“Will you help advocate against gun violence at the #Oklahoma State Capitol?!” a Twitter user wrote, responding to Chief Franklin. “We’ve been doing that for years and had resistance from law enforcement. Let’s chat and see how we can work together to make a better, safer Oklahoma.”
There are certainly a minority of protesters in both Tulsa and the Nation who actively hate law enforcement officers, just as there are law enforcement officers in Tulsa and the Nation who actively hate Black people. Would Chief Franklin consider it fair to paint all police officers with the same brush the way his tweet denigrated all protesters? We doubt it.
Meanwhile, Twitter users continue to respond to Chief Franklin, showcasing the divide his comments have created.