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After Tyre Nichols’ brutal death at the hands of Memphis police, Tulsans are renewing calls for reform here.
At a vigil Sunday night honoring Tyre Nichols’ life, community leaders once again asked elected officials in Tulsa to act.
For many, it’s no longer a matter of if there will be a next time, only when. And after years of community members pleading with leaders to adopt changes with no progress, the urgency is only growing.
“The whole system is corrupt, and I’m not afraid to say it,” Dr. Rodney Goss, pastor of Morningstar Baptist Church, told those in attendance at the vigil for Tyre Nichols.
“I sat down at the table,” he said. “I watched them make promises. Folks stroke your ego and make you feel important and a part of something, then send you home to give a false narrative to your congregation until the next Black man or woman is killed for no reason at all. Then you go right back to the same table, getting pacified by someone who has no intention to help us anyway.”
For many faith and community leaders on the front lines of efforts for change, the similarities between Memphis and Tulsa are all too stark.
Latest incident of violence opens old wounds in Tulsa
Some have drawn comparisons between Memphis’s now disbanded “Scorpion Unit” and previous activity from similar special police units in Tulsa.
In 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd, an incident between Tulsa Police Officers and two juveniles sparked outrage. Body cam video shows the officers, both members of the department’s gang task force, rushing up and grabbing the teenagers.
When one boy asks the officers “what do you want?”, the officer responds by saying “you were walking in the middle of the street”. Officers arrested both boys and charged them with jaywalking. The street they were walking on had no sidewalks.
According to the mother of one of the boys, her son, who was just 13 at the time, “was beaten and punched in the stomach, which may not be seen on video.”
She said the incident left her son with physical bruising.
“Both boys are left with psychological scarring from this incident,” she wrote.
At the time, Mayor Bynum reacted with frustration, saying he watched the video “more as a parent than a mayor.”
“I know the officers in that unit focus on the removal of illegal guns from the streets, Bynum said.” But the goal of that work should be that families feel safe in their neighborhood. This instance accomplished the opposite.”
Chief Franklin stated the matter was under an internal investigation, though the outcome of the investigation was never made public.
Tulsans continue calls for meaningful reform to improve policing practices as incidents of violence continue
Over the last several years, Tulsans have called for thoughtful, independent oversight to improve policing practices.
Those calls began after the killings of Terence Crutcher, and have only been amplified since.
Last Summer, as the city council moved toward approving a new budget, community members again requested funding for independent oversight. These calls were enhanced after video surfaced of 70 year-old LaDonna Paris being beaten by officers while suffering a mental health crisis after locking herself in a restroom.
Shortly before she broke in the door and began violently grabbing and striking Ms. Paris, TPD Officer Ronni Carrocia is seen on camera saying “this is going to be so fun.”
While Paris was left with a bloodied face and required medical attention, officers arrested her. Paris then spent a month in jail before a judge dropped her charges, citing her mental illness.
The police department said while Officer Carrocia’s actions “may be perceived as unprofessional”, they did not violate department policy.
Community members urged the council to increase funding for mental health crisis response supports and establish independent oversight in light of the brutal video, but they were unsuccessful.
Legislator says continued efforts for ‘common sense’ reforms stymied by special interest groups
As the city prepares its budget for the upcoming year, calls for meaningful reforms are growing again.
Those calls are also echoing in Oklahoma’s capitol as State Representative Regina Goodwin pushes for new legislation at a state level.
“Somebody’s civil rights are being trampled right now,” Rep Goodwin said at the vigil honoring Tyre Nichols.
“And I guarantee you [he] wasn’t the first person [the Scorpion Unit] assaulted,” she continued. “This is just the first time that we saw it.”
Goodwin said she has worked to champion multiple reform measures in the state legislature. She mentioned bills to ban choke holds, require body cameras be turned on and end qualified immunity. None of these, however, have received a hearing.
Goodwin says special interest groups like the Fraternal Order of Police have often worked to block reforms.
Leaders call for greater emphasis on community safety, not just policing practices in wake of Tyre Nichols’ death.
This time, back in 2016, it was the community of Memphis that stood with us, said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, who lost her twin brother Terence to police violence in Tulsa six years ago.
“The Memphis Grizzlies were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder and I remember them wearing the initials of TC, Terence Crutcher, on their jerseys.”
“We never thought, six years later, we’d be standing in solidarity with the community of Memphis,” she continued. “We know there are so many other names we will not know.”
Dr. Crutcher said she was on a call earlier with mothers who had lost their lives to police violence. She said her call with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and others was “heavy”. And that, despite the pain, she remains resolute in fighting for the same changes six years later.
“We need independent oversight so this will never happen again,” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher told the crowd the vigil. “Police should no longer be policing themselves.”
“Our message has not changed,” Crutcher told the crowd.
“We are still demanding independent oversight and that resources are allocated to mental health supports. We are still demanding that resources prevent our kids from living in a food desert. We’re demanding reparations now; not today, not tomorrow but now.”
As she spoke, Dr. Crutcher pulled out her phone and told the crowd she’d received a message of encouragement from Berniece King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, to share with those in attendance.
“I believe our ancestors would never want us to give up or give in to how we feel,” the message read.
“They would want us to turn it into fuel to keep strategizing, to keep planning, to keep organizing to keep mobilizing for transformation.”