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The last three known living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre continue to wait for justice. Attorneys for the city of Tulsa continue to defend against a Greenwood lawsuit that seeks restitution for the century-old racial terror attack. Here’s the thing: There’s absolutely nothing that prevents Mayor G.T. Bynum from reaching a settlement with Mother Viola Ford Fletcher, 108 years old, Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and Uncle Hughes Van Ellis, 102.
So, why hasn’t he?
“I’ve come to the regrettable conclusion,” as Dr. King Jr. would say, that Bynum simply doesn’t believe in the concept of reparations.
On at least two occasions, Mayor Bynum told national media outlets that he doesn’t believe reparations to the survivors should come out of taxpayer funds. Yet I’ve never once heard him complain about Tulsa Police misconduct lawsuits being paid out of taxpayer funds.
“I think when it comes to payments, the challenge there is what’s the source? Where does it come from? Where I run into challenges is if it’s coming from a tax that’s levied on everybody in Tulsa when this generation of Tulsans did not carry out a crime,” Mayor George Theron Bynum told Vice News during the Centennial anniversary of the Massacre.
“I don’t think this generation of Tulsans should be financially penalized for something criminals did a hundred years ago.”
Mayor Bynum seeks to punt reparations past the point of no return
Using his own logic, Tulsans are “penalized” every time our taxes go toward paying settlements to the families of police brutality victims. Tulsa County paid out $6 million in 2018 alone to the family of Eric Harris, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed in 2015 by former reserve deputy Robert Bates.
That’s just one case out of a plethora of police misconduct lawsuits that are currently pending on the city and county level.
In an interview with then-MSNBC host Tiffany Cross that same year, Bynum gave a different reason for being opposed to direct payments to the survivors and descendants of the Massacre. He said it makes people “uncomfortable.”
After Black Wall Street Times founder and editor-in-chief Nehemiah D. Frank uncovered the Bynum family’s racist legacy of owning up to 1,000 enslaved people since the 1600s, Bynum deflected.
“So can you imagine how the descendants of the enslaved look at your position in life compared to their own and hear you say, ‘well no, cash payouts make people uncomfortable.’ I assume you mean the White people of Tulsa,” Tiffany Cross asked Bynum.
“No,” he responded.
Justice or just us?
It’s true that Mayor Bynum has done more for the Greenwood community than any previous administration in the last one hundred years. His efforts to leverage public and private partnerships has led to a resurgence of economic revitalization, despite the lingering gentrification that prevents members of the community from owning or renting space in the new high rises that overlook the District.
He showed leadership in his efforts to honor the lost souls of the Massacre by conducting the first ever searches for mass graves, despite the fact that he completely destroyed the community’s trust after quickly reburying bodies and reneging on his promise to provide transparency.
Ultimately, there is no pending election pressuring Bynum to make certain decisions, leaving me to conclude that he simply believes he knows what’s best for the community. It’s the same kind of paternalistic attitude that for centuries has caused White men in power to set the timetable for justice. History will judge it as an injustice.
Restorative justice requires reparations. Yes, direct cash payments
When a person commits a crime, they don’t get to determine what restitution looks like. Yet when it comes to justice for the survivors of America’s worst instance of racial terrorism, Bynum wants to pass over option A, — which would be to listen to what those harmed say will make them whole — and instead choose option B.
By taking credit for the economic revitalization underway in Historic Greenwood while simultaneously denying the survivors reparations for the destruction of generational wealth and prosperity, Bynum wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
Bynum, by wielding the office of the Mayor, represents the entity that was complicit in the destruction of 36 square blocks and over 300 human lives.
Restorative justice requires the guilty party to take responsibility for the harm, to listen to what those harmed say they need and to work together to repair the community.
The community has spoken. Will Mayor G.T. Bynum listen before it’s too late?