Father of 13-year-old shooting victim wants change in “Hope Valley”

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
hope valley gun violence

A Christmas weekend visit with family changed from celebrations into mourning after a young teenager was gunned down outside a Tulsa apartment complex.

Lamar Norman III, a star football player at Kipp Middle School, was visiting extended family at Savannah Landing in the city’s E. 61st and S. Peoria neighborhood when he was shot, according to his father.

“My son just got shot and killed,” Norman Jr. told KTUL. “Like, I’m supposed to protect him.”

Tulsa Police responded to the scene at 4:15 a.m. on December 27th and found Norman III’s body near the entrance to the apartment complex. Witnesses reported hearing over a dozen gunshots.

gun violence hope valley

Lamar Norman III (Gofundme)

Shooting deaths affecting teens

Norman said it was the first time his son had been to the apartments and that he’d been raising his son to become a better version of himself.

“He’s just special, man,” said Norman. “I can’t even explain it. Like, he, he was just, he was really me.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday police arrested 13-year-old Skylar Neill for allegedly killing Norman III. It came amidst a separate shooting of another young teenager during a year that included dozens of killings around the city.

“Tulsa’s most recent murders involve 13yr olds. The death of a child is always difficult and often preventable,” Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin posted on Twitter. “I feel sorrow over these two lives & the 59 other lives lost this year. Detectives are hard at work and need the assistance of those who know details.

Notably, the area around 61st and Peoria in Tulsa has faced an epidemic of shootings over the years, gaining a notorious reputation in the city. To inspire the community to become more active in changing the environment, city councilors rebranded the area “Hope Valley” in 2019, according to the Tulsa World. Yet, while the city has heightened awareness about the needs and hopes for the community, the campaign has done little to affect rates of violence.

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For instance, days after the shooting of Norman III, officers reported 75 shots fired in the same area on January 2.

“The initial caller said that 8-9 black males in black clothing and ski masks were shooting at the entrance of Savannah Landing,” according to a Facebook post from TPD.

gun violence hope valley

A photo of the Savanna Landing Apartments in Tulsa taken by Colton Branstetter on September 23, 2021. (KTUL)

Community leaders, police not addressing root causes of gun violence

On Thursday, police officers, local business leaders, apartment managers and community leaders met to discuss solutions to the violence. Tulsa City Councilors Jayme Fowler and Jeannie Cue represent the areas near 61st and Peoria.

They released a joint statement on Tuesday saying, “​​“To the citizens of Hope Valley (61st and Peoria), we are committed to standing by you. We are going to continue working with you to make this community a great place to live, work and raise a family. As Councilors, we will continue to be engaged with Tulsa Police, Mayor Bynum and community stakeholders on a plan of action to make Hope Valley the kind of place everyone deserves to live.”

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Meanwhile, Oklahoma remains a state with lax gun laws. Permitless carry was signed into law in 2019,  making it easier for guns to fall into the hands of teenagers whose brains aren’t fully developed. In fact, many of Tulsa’s shooting suspects and victims in 2020 have been teenagers.

Previously we released a report detailing evidence-based, long term solutions to gun violence. According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, factors that contribute to this epidemic include: 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.

Yet, instead of seeking to work with community leaders and local officials to address these environmental factors, Chief Franklin previously blamed protesters for focusing on police brutality.

Divisions over solutions cloud issue

Even as some people on social media questioned why local police have refused to advocate for stronger gun laws, Chief Franklin made clear his position in a recent tweet following the Christmas weekend shooting.

“Not drawing conclusions to these homicides, but I feel the need to state the obvious. Morality can neither be legislated nor policed. Parents must be the first line of defense.  Government is not the parent. Once we get involved it’s too late,” TPD Chief Franklin wrote.

police chief gun violence

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin. (KTUL photo.)

To be sure, gun violence has been an issue in urban communities for decades. It’s a leading cause of death for Black men under 55, and Black people represent 60% of gun violence victims despite making up only 12% of the population, according to the EFSGV report. Yet, Black Americans also disproportionately live in impoverished communities with few resources. Many live in communities where being exposed to gun violence makes one more likely to engage in it themselves.

While some on the left focus on government laws and others on the right focus on the responsibility of parents, children growing up in these environments continue to face the brunt of this epidemic.

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Evidence-based solutions for long-term change

Ultimately, evidence-based solutions to community gun violence have remained unchanged. 

They include: addressing the underlying social and economic inequalities that fuel gun violence, adequately funding community-based violence prevention and intervention efforts that build authentic relationships with those impacted and supporting local organizations that address the social and economic inequalities at the root of gun violence. 

While no solution can end the epidemic of shooting deaths overnight, the research is clear— working together to alter the environmental factors that lead to gun violence will have the greatest long-term impact.

For grieving father Norman Jr., the answer lies in leaders stepping up to the challenge. “Everyone that’s a leader has to not be scared and lead,” he said.

To help Norman’s family pay for funeral and burial costs, click here.

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