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News
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City's draft mask ordinance includes multiple exceptions, would impose $100 fine for second-time violators

Tulsans would be required to wear face coverings over their mouths and noses inside businesses, other indoor spaces open to the public and in outdoor public spaces where proper social distancing is not possible, according to a draft city ordinance obtained by the Tulsa World.

The ordinance, which includes multiple exceptions, is subject to change based on recommendations from the Tulsa Health Department.

Among the details yet to be finalized is a minimum age requirement.

The proposed exceptions include any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering; any person consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink; any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, though wearing a mask is strongly encouraged; and any person in a swimming pool, lake or similar body of water.

First-time violators of the ordinance would receive a verbal or written notice. A person cited for violating the ordinance a second time would be issued a ticket for a misdemeanor and, if convicted, would be subject to a fine of no more than $100, excluding court costs.

The proposed ordinance would expire when Mayor G.T. Bynum’s latest emergency order expires, or when Gov. Kevin Stitt’s emergency declaration expires, whichever comes first.

Bynum announced Friday that he would move forward with implementing a mask ordinance after Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart recommended he do so to combat the surge of COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County.

“This is necessary to slow the current rate of viral spread that will endanger our health care system’s ability to treat those in need if it is not addressed,” Bynum said in a Facebook post.

The City Council is expected to consider the ordinance Wednesday.

The county’s 7-day rolling average for new COVID-19 infections on Monday reached a new high of 166.

The county’s rolling average, a metric used to prevent a single day or data point from skewing data, previously peaked at 148 twice, in late June and early July.

The state’s 7-day rolling average reached a new high Monday of 626.

The requirement for wearing a mask outdoors pertains only to public spaces where it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.

Other proposed exceptions to the mask ordinance are:

• Any person driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver.

• Any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care or dental service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal.

• Any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.

• Any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.

• Any person giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience.

• Any person performing work in which face coverings present or exacerbates a hazard.

If approved by the City Council, Tulsa would join Stillwater and Norman as Oklahoma municipalities that have implemented mask ordinances.

Oklahoma City’s City Council is expected to discuss a possible mask ordinance with its Health Department this week.

The governor has said he has no intention of implementing a statewide mask requirement.


Video: State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister urges mask-wearing for the sake of school

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

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Racemassacre
topical
Watch Now: No discoveries during first day of Oaklawn excavation, but scientists remain optimistic

No human remains were found Monday on the first day of a test excavation in Oaklawn Cemetery, but the archeological team members looking for unmarked burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre said they are not discouraged.

Maybe a little surprised, but not discouraged.

The surprise is that the team excavated to a depth of more than 7 feet without reaching either a foundational layer of soil or any signs that humans were buried on the site.

Instead, the team encountered only “fill” — soil and other materials (including what appeared to be the door to a boiler) dumped on the spot sometime in the distant past.

State Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck said the fill material causes the scientists to still believe the site at the west end of the cemetery is a likely place to search for unmarked burials.

A foundational layer of soil likely would signal the end of the search in that location.

The group plans to resume work early Tuesday.

Work proceeded quickly Monday after a rain delay of more than four hours, with a city track hoe crew carving out a 10-foot-by-20-foot area to a depth of about 3 feet and then digging a trench to the deeper depth across the middle.

After each bucketful, the archeologists and forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield swooped in like birds to poke at the soil in search of clues.

The site being explored this week was identified by written and oral history and by subsurface scanning carried out late last year.

Records and news reports say 18 Black victims from the May 31-June 1, 1921, massacre were buried in Oaklawn, but beyond that is the widespread belief that many more bodies have not been accounted for and that at least some of them may have been buried at Oaklawn Cemetery.

Death certificates have been found for 37 people killed in the massacre, but estimates of the number of dead ranged from 50 to 500 at the time. From the very first, rumors persisted of clandestine burials at various sites, including some far from Tulsa.

Oaklawn is one of a number of areas identified as potential burial sites by a team assembled at the request of Mayor G.T. Bynum. Other locations include the present Rolling Oaks Cemetery in south Tulsa and an area along the Arkansas River immediately west of downtown.

In a noon press briefing on Monday, Bynum reiterated his desire to locate as many unidentified burial sites as possible.

He sidestepped the issue of reparations, saying, “I really want, before we have that discussion, to really try to find these folks. … This is Step 1 in trying to find out what that justice looks like.”

Bynum said the city should follow the facts “wherever they lead” and prove that it is “trying to do the right thing, even if it’s hard.”

Oaklawn will be closed during the work, which is expected to last at least through Wednesday. Spectators are allowed to watch from outside the west end of the cemetery near the work site.

The excavation originally was scheduled to begin April 1 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Gallery: Test excavations in Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves search resumes

Gallery: Digging continues Tuesday for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery

Education
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Union Public Schools committee to make recommendation on 'Redskins' mascot; area tribal representatives to be included

Seventeen years after previous board members voted unanimously to keep Union Public Schools’ mascot, today’s board members decided unanimously Monday to begin a process that seems likely to lead to the end of the Redskins name and logo.

The board will appoint a committee that will spend the rest of 2020 studying the issue, with members including advisers from the Creek and Cherokee nations. Specific people haven’t been named, but other committee members will include students, faculty and alumni, with the goal of recommending by December whether to keep the mascot.

While saying the committee would be free to support keeping the mascot, Superintendent Kirt Hartzler reiterated his call to change it.

“In a democracy,” he said, “each generation has to make its own decision.”

The move came the same day the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C., announced that it will change its Redskins name and mascot. But the timing was mostly coincidental, Union officials said, insisting that their decision would be independent.

The board would have discussed changing the mascot this fall regardless of the NFL team, said board member Ken Kinnear.

“It obviously has been accelerated” because of the national discussion, he said.

While many Native Americans take offense at the term, “it was never intended that way” when Union chose the mascot in 1945, Kinnear said.

In 2003, more than 100 people attended a Union school board meeting when members voted unanimously to keep the mascot. At the time, most attendees approved of the decision, saying the term represented a strong, positive figure.

Michael Hamilton watched his father defend the name then and was the sole speaker Monday to urge the board to keep the mascot.

“You’re going to offend tens of thousands of people who take pride in the name,” he said, suggesting that most supporters felt too intimidated to speak out.

“We look at it as prideful. Redskins were tough. They were warriors.”

Critics say the term historically referred to the scalp of a slain American Indian sold for bounty.

One parent described her Native American daughter only pretending to chant the name while serving as a Union cheerleader. Another said her sons played sports for Union but refused to wear the team logo except on the field, when they had no choice.

“It’s not only disrespectful to Native Americans,” said a fifth grader who gave her name only as Daisy. “It’s disrespectful to the students at Union who have to be involved in this continuous conversation.”

Dozens of protesters gathered outside before the board meeting began to urge members to ditch the mascot.

“We’re living in a teachable moment,” said one protester who gave his name only as Julian B. “If there was ever a time to make a change and teach children that racism is not OK, this is it.

“Bottom line, it’s all about education, and this is an educational institution.”


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Crime-and-courts
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Supreme Court ruling leads to dismissal of state murder charges against father in children's deaths

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office dismissed two murder charges filed Friday against a man over the deaths of his two children in a hot vehicle after prosecutors determined that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction due to the children’s tribal ancestry.

Dustin Lee Dennis, 31, faced two second-degree felony murder charges in the June 13 deaths of his children, Ryan and Tegan Dennis, near 61st Street and Lewis Avenue after a lengthy investigation that included his release from jail on a personal recognizance bond. District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said last month that his office agreed to the release at least partly because surveillance footage had been received showing that the children entered Dennis’ pickup on their own and weren’t left in it by him.

However, Kunzweiler said Friday that the continued investigation supported the filing of murder charges. But before Dennis’ scheduled arraignment on Monday, prosecutors and a judge became aware that the children had tribal ancestry, prompting the dismissal of the case because Kunzweiler said his office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute due to a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled 5-4 last week that much of eastern Oklahoma remains legally Indian Territory for the purposes of enforcing the federal Major Crimes Act as it relates to the case against 71-year-old Jimcy McGirt, a Seminole citizen who is incarcerated on child sex crime convictions that occurred within Muscogee (Creek) Nation boundaries.

The Major Crimes Act, according to federal law, can be invoked in U.S. district courts for crimes including murder, manslaughter, maiming, kidnapping and felony child abuse or neglect if the defendant is a tribal citizen.

Though court records do not claim that Dennis is a tribal citizen, federal prosecutors from Oklahoma determined in 2010 that the federal government has jurisdiction to pursue cases under the General Crimes Act if a tribal citizen is a victim of a crime on tribal land but the alleged perpetrator is not a tribal citizen.

“To have put the effort in that law enforcement did in this investigation because of what we originally had to go through, it’s gotta be devastating for the victim — I feel bad for her,” Kunzweiler said Monday, referencing Tegan and Ryan’s mother, a Cherokee Nation citizen who on Monday presented information about the children’s status to authorities.

“The way of this future is we can literally think we’ve got a good case and we’re moving forward on state charges only to find out, as it was in this case, the children had tribal membership.”

But Justice Neil Gorsuch, who issued the majority opinion in McGirt’s case, wrote that he believed “Oklahoma and its tribes have proven they can work successfully together as partners” in prosecuting cases. Of the state’s arguments before the Court, Gorsuch wrote that “even Oklahoma admits that the vast majority of its prosecutions will be unaffected” regardless of the court’s decision.

The U.S. Congress has the power to “disestablish” or reduce the boundaries of a Native American reservation, but Gorsuch said he found that Congress never officially did so when Oklahoma became a state. Gorsuch also pointed out that the General Crimes Act already says federal law can apply to “a broader range of crimes by or against Indians in Indian country” than the handful of offenses specified in the Major Crimes Act.

A now-moot document filed in Tulsa County against Dennis on Friday alleged that he caused the deaths of his children, ages 3 and 4, by committing child neglect described as “sleeping for hours during the day when he was the sole caretaker.” The behavior, according to the document, resulted in the children’s climbing into his truck and dying from heat exhaustion.

An arrest report says Dennis reported that he drove to a convenience store with the children before returning home, where he passed out for “four or five hours.” Police said he told them he woke up and did not see the children but later found their bodies on the floorboard of his truck and took them into his house.

Dennis’ home — as is most of Tulsa — is within the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Court minutes show that Dennis had retained attorneys Stephen Lee and Mark Cagle for any possible criminal case.

Kunzweiler said his office has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa to say prosecutors there should review the Dennis case.

In the meantime, Kunzweiler said, there are no charges against Dennis and no order on file to hold him for another law enforcement agency. Thus, there is no legal basis for him to be in custody.

Kunzweiler said he believed the state had a “solid” case and is hopeful that Trent Shores, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, will “be seeing things the same way.”

“They’re going to have to start out essentially from scratch,” Kunzweiler said. “They do their cases by way of indictment, so I would imagine a delay, and that’s what I feel bad about for the mother in this case.”

In a prepared statement, Shores said his office does not comment on pending investigations to preserve the integrity and confidentiality of the federal grand jury process.

“Let there be no doubt that my team of federal prosecutors, legal support staff, victim specialists, and administrative staff are working around the clock right now to pursue justice and help victims of crime,” Shores said. “We are doing so in partnership with tribal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as with the Tulsa County and Creek County District Attorneys and the Muscogee (Creek) Attorney General. We want to ensure the citizens of northeastern Oklahoma continue to receive seamless public safety services.”


 

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