Tulsa, Oklahoma’s history of racial bias and violence against its Black residents reaches back to the 1921 Greenwood Massacre, which decimated the city’s thriving Black community of Greenwood and resulted in the killing of at least 300 Black Tulsans. The Greenwood Massacre lives powerfully in the historic memory of Black Tulsans and undergirds a determined effort to confront racial discrimination that undermines the full citizenship and dignity of the city’s Black communities.

Members of the Tulsa community have long been advocating to address deeply disturbing incidents of recurring police violence, particularly against Black Tulsans. These incidents of police brutality, and evidence of racial disparities in the TPD’s arrests and uses of force, have inspired a sustained movement committed to addressing these inequities in Tulsa’s public safety system. 

As the city of Tulsa plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre, it must commit to addressing the contemporary manifestations of historical discrimination and implementing measures that can result in change. These efforts must include adoption of transformative public safety policies and strategies to ensure Tulsans are safe in their communities regardless of their race, ethnicity or national origin. Tulsans deserve nothing less.

We Are Not Lesser: An Urgent Call To End Over-Policing Of Black Communities And Transform Public Safety In Tulsa, Oklahoma

Amidst the nationwide conversation about police violence, the law enforcement killings in Tulsa of Terence Crutcher in 2016, Joshua Barre in 2017, Joshua Harvey in 2018, and other law enforcement shootings of Black Tulsans prompted Tulsa leaders and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) to host a public meeting in March 2019 to address racial bias and other problems in the Tulsa Police Department’s (TPD) practices. Days after this community-sponsored listening session, Tulsa’s City Council voted to hold special meetings, which occurred from June-September 2019, to better understand the racial disparities in TPD’s policing practices. 

Over a year has passed since the last public meeting in the city regarding racial disparities in policing. Tulsa officials released the third Equality Indicators Annual report in 2020, which revealed that inequalities in the city remain.

In an effort to move Tulsa city leaders towards action to address these ongoing disparities, “We Are Not Lesser” presents specific recommendations that the Mayor, City Council, and TPD should adopt and implement to achieve a more equitable Tulsa. This report summarizes the information and testimony shared at the Tulsa Equality Indicator meetings.

People raise their hands at a rally before a "National Prayer and Call For Justice" march in Tulsa, Okla., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. The march was in response to the police shooting of Terence Crutcher. Source: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
LEFT: Hundreds attended March 7, 2019, community-led public meeting to discuss Tulsa Equality Indicators revealing racial disparities in policing practices. Photo courtesy of Tulsa World; RIGHT: Tulsa City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper at March 7, 2019, community-led hearing on racial disparities in Tulsa policing practices. Photo courtesy of Tulsa World

Personal Testimonies Illustrate and Research Explains the Racial Disparities Found in the Tulsa Equality Indicators Report

At sessions convened by community leaders in March 2019, residents gave testimony that illustrated the harm that Black youth and adults experienced in their encounters with TPD, as well as the harm caused to their families. Members of the City Council held additional meetings between June and September 2019 that focused on the findings of Tulsa Equality Indicators’ Annual Reports for 2018 and 2019 and the alarming racial disparities in key areas of law enforcement activity in the city documented in the reports. 

Racial Disparities in Youth Arrests Indicate TPD is Disproportionately Criminalizing Tulsa’s Black Youth

  • The 2018 and 2019 Tulsa Equality Indicator reports found that TPD officers arrest Black youth three times more than white youth. The 2020 report showed that the racial disparities in youth arrests persist.
  • At the 2019 meetings, a number of Tulsans, including parents, teachers, and youth, shared the negative experiences Black youth have had with TPD officers and their frustration with the differential, more severe treatment of youth of color by police. 

TPD Disproportionately Arrests Black Adults Often for Low-Level Offenses

  • The Equality Indicators reports found that TPD arrests more than twice as many Black adults when compared to white adults, and many of the arrests are for low-level, non-violent crimes. 
  • Black Tulsans account for 14% of the population, but they comprise 41% of TPD arrests for traffic offenses, and 38% of arrests for disorderly conduct.
  • Recent research noted over the past 20 years violent crime rates have dropped by 37.2% and property crime rates by 39.8%, the rate of jail admissions rose by 71.1%.
  • Tulsans described numerous incidents of being stopped and searched and reported officers’ behavior was problematic and disrespectful, raising serious concerns about TPD officers’ conduct.

TPD Officers Use Force More Frequently on Black Tulsans, and These Incidents Cause Trauma for Families and Communities

  • The Equality Indicator reports showed that while Black people constituted only 15% of Tulsa’s total population, in 2019, they comprised 37% of people against whom TPD officers used force.
  • TPD officers have used excessive force against persons who were experiencing a crisis or who had a disability.
  • Rather than acknowledge and commit to ending the disparities in officers’ uses of force, TPD downplays its disparity in using force.
  • The testimony shared by victims of police violence and their families illustrates what researchers have reported for some time—use of force by police officers impacts not only the individuals against whom force is used, but also their families and the health of entire communities.

Data and Information Show Tulsa Officials and TPD Need a System of Public Safety That Protects All Tulsans, Invests in Infrastructure for People in Crisis and Responds to Impacted Community Members’ Demands

  • The data show that Tulsa has failed to make an adequate investment in community resources. North Tulsa zip code 74106 has the highest percentage of both Black residents and people living below the poverty line. The average lifespan of residents of North Tulsa is 70 years old, which is 11 years below the average lifespan in two South Tulsa zip codes with the lowest percentage of Black residents. In 2016, Tulsa was ranked eleventh in the nation for the highest rate of evictions.
  • More than 17% of Tulsa’s total operating budget for 2020 was allocated to TPD alone – nearly $122 million out of a $713 million budget.
  • In contrast, the City allocated only 1.5% of its budget to the public transit system, or $10.8 million. Emergency and medical services—crucial to serving the community’s health needs—received 1% of funds, or $7.7 million.
  • Tulsa city officials must intentionally and purposefully invest in the areas where it is most needed, including access to food, medicine, affordable housing, and community based responses to people with behavioral health or other disabilities or in crisis.

TPD Personnel Are Not Diverse

  • The Equality Indicators reports found racial and gender inequity in the employment rates of TPD officers, and TPD has had to address race discrimination claims by its officers.
  • Diversifying TPD’s workforce must be coupled with changes to its policing strategies and practices to eliminate the disproportionate uses of force and arrests of Black residents, particularly for low-level or non-violent crimes that Tulsans have spoken out about and that Equality Indicators reports and other data confirms.
  • TPD leadership and officers of all races, ethnicities, and gender, must acknowledge and address racial disparities in policing services.

Key Reforms and Recommendations

Last summer, Tulsans, like millions of Americans nationwide, organized and participated in mass demonstrations to protest police violence, to demand accountability for police misconduct and brutality, and to urge a rethinking of the public safety framework in America. Tulsa’s protests mirrored those that took place in every one of the 50 states in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Carlos Ingram-Lopez in Arizona, Tony McDade in Florida, and Rayshard Brooks in Georgia. But as the testimony throughout the Tulsa City Council public listening sessions and special meetings demonstrates, members of Tulsa’s Black and Latinx communities have long been demanding the City take action to address its long history of racially biased policing.

The Mayor and City Council of Tulsa Must Formally Acknowledge the History of Racial Discrimination in Tulsa and Commit to Addressing It - Particularly in Public Safety Services

  • As the city prepares to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre, the City of Tulsa must formally acknowledge the history of violence against Black Tulsans and commit to rectifying it. It will be impossible to address the racial disparities in policing practices if no acknowledgment exists.
  • An acknowledgement may take several forms: the Mayor could issue an executive order, or the City Council could issue a resolution recognizing the persistent racial disparities that the City’s own data reveals and listing concrete steps each branch of government will take to address the problem, such as repealing ordinances that result in racial disparities in arrests of Black and Latinx Tulsans, and disparate engagement with the criminal legal system

The City Must Reduce its Reliance on Policing and TPD Must Reduce its Disproportionate Arrests of Black Tulsans

  • Tulsa officials must implement the essential elements of an integrated crisis system, including: (1) a regional crisis call center; (2) crisis mobile team response; and (3) crisis receiving and stabilization facilities.
  • The Mayor and City Council must invest in community-based services to address needs to which law enforcement officers are ill-equipped to respond. These investments must include: programs and practices to support behavioral and mental health needs; youth development and support programs; permanent housing and services for people who are unhoused.
  • Law enforcement officers should not respond to calls that do not require the presence of an armed emergency responder. The Mayor and City Council must create a system that diverts calls from 911 to non-police resources. This requires a two-fold commitment: train dispatchers to divert non-emergency calls accordingly, and adequately resource and equip non-law enforcement responders.
  • Laws that criminalize minor, quality of life offenses must be repealed. City officials must remedy the harms of over-criminalization by establishing an expungement program for adults and youth, and pass an ordinance reforming the fines and fees structure of Tulsa’s municipal court system.
  • TPD must develop practices that reduce or eliminate arrests for low-level, non-violent offenses and eliminate racial disparities in arrests. TPD should implement practices that: (1) reduce officers’ discretionary stops of Black Tulsans, (2) promote equitable treatment of Black Tulsans during stops such as in questioning, and (3) encourage warnings for minor or low-level nonviolent offenses such as unpaid fines and fees and traffic offenses.
  • TPD must encourage problem solving and incentivize officers to resolve disputes without resorting to arrests.

The Mayor, City Council, and TPD Must Improve Transparency into Officers’ Actions By Requiring Data Collection and Routine Reporting of Data Regarding Officers’ Law Enforcement Activity

  • The City Council should require TPD to collect data on all traffic stops and pedestrian stops including the reason for the stop, the self-reported race, ethnicity, gender, and age of the officer(s) and individual(s) involved in the stop, the specific location of the stop, the length of the stop, whether the individual(s) and/or vehicle was searched, and if so, whether consent was obtained or other basis for the search, whether any contraband was found in cases of a search, and the code for which the citation was issued. TPD should also collect data on whether individuals are being arrested repeatedly with the goal of exploring alternatives to arrest. 
  • TPD’s response to an officer’s use of force must be transparent. TPD must accurately record incidents of force, including when officers brandish a weapon, when force does not result in injury, and when force is used in non-arrest encounters. Reports, documents relating to investigations, and its conclusions regarding to use of force incidents, particularly deadly force, must be made publicly available.
  • TPD must collect data on the origination of youth encounters, including details on whether youth were charged with a felony or misdemeanor, charged with a state or municipal offense, and arrested or given a warning. Tulsa-area public school districts and campus police must collect data regarding their interactions, including enforcement encounters and arrests, with the communities they serve. On an annual basis, these data must be evaluated and reported to the public. 

The Mayor, City Council, and TPD Must Create a Plan to End Racial Disparities in Use of Force

  • The City Council must pass legislation and/or the Mayor issue an executive order requiring the criminal investigations of deadly force incidents to be conducted by an external and independent entity, and publicly report the outcomes.
  • The City of Tulsa, with input from impacted community members, should implement an independent and rigorous oversight mechanism to evaluate officers’ uses of force and misconduct.
  • TPD must decrease the frequency of officers’ uses of force, particularly against Black Tulsans. TPD must adopt a new use of force standard that requires that any force used be necessary, meaning the minimum amount required to achieve a legitimate purpose, and proportional, considering the harm likely to be caused through the use of force and the benefit of any legitimate objective to be achieved.

Tulsans Impacted by Over-Policing Must Have Meaningful Input into What Public Safety in Tulsa Means

  • The Mayor, City Council and TPD must ensure that public safety measures are guided by all community members, particularly those who have been involved in the criminal justice system.
  • As an act of transparency and commitment to accountability, TPD must take affirmative steps to ensure that its policy and procedure for filing complaints against its officers are clear and comprehensive and that the community is adequately informed of them.

TPD Must Limit its Interactions with Youth to Prevent Their Involvement in the Criminal Legal System

  • TPD enforcement encounters with youth must be extremely rare. TPD must assess the causes of encounters with youth and collaborate with city officials and community organizations to develop community-based alternative solutions to the underlying issues that have led to police involvement with youth in the past.
  • When a call for service regarding a youth is initiated, every effort must be explored and made to divert the youth away from the justice system, including outreach to parent(s)/guardian(s), a school counselor, a health program, or other community-based services, before a police enforcement encounter is initiated.
  • Law enforcement must be removed from Tulsa schools.

City Officials Must Adopt and Implement Community Oversight Mechanisms to Hold Officers Accountable for Misconduct

  • City officials should establish and fund an independent, civilian oversight body with the authority to conduct independent investigations of alleged police misconduct, to determine whether officers violated policy and whether changes to policy are warranted, and to impose discipline.
  • The oversight body must have the power to subpoena, have guaranteed funding to ensure its independence and effectiveness, and be staffed and governed by non-law enforcement civilians. 
  • The TPD should provide all relevant information to the National Decertification Index which collects information about officers who have had their licenses or certifications revoked, and reference this and other local, regional, and national databases as a part of its hiring process to eliminate candidates with a history of misconduct.

Diversity of TPD Personnel is Not a Panacea

  • TPD must recruit, retain and promote officers who are committed to fair and impartial policing services without increasing the overall number of officers, and while the city overall reduces its reliance on policing and invests in other services that better meet residents needs.

Conclusion

The Mayor and City Council of Tulsa and TPD must acknowledge and commit to remedying the racial disparities in TPD’s law enforcement activity. Additionally, the Mayor and City Council of Tulsa and TPD must implement proactive policies and recommendations suggested in this report to remedy the disparity and inequality experienced by Black Tulsans in encounters with the Tulsa Police Department. 

Residents of Tulsa are relying on city leadership—both City Council members and the Mayor—to address racial disparities experienced by Black and Latinx communities and affirmed by the findings of the Tulsa Equality Indicators reports — a task that is long overdue. Tulsa’s city leaders must seize this opportunity to adopt transformative public safety policies and strategies to ensure all Tulsans are safe in their communities regardless of their race, ethnicity or national origin. Tulsans deserve nothing less.

Source: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This report is dedicated to the individuals and families in Tulsa and nationwide who have fought, and continue to fight, for justice for their loved ones during an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Over 500,000 people have been killed by COVID-19 in the United States over the last year, and 34% of them have been Black, although Black people comprise only 12% of the U.S. population. In particular, we remember Leanna Crutcher, the mother of Terence Crutcher, who died due to complications from COVID-19 on January 14, 2021. Leanna Crutcher’s legacy lives on and continues to inspire the fight for a more equitable public safety system in Tulsa. 

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