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Police deploy pepper balls at protesters outside Woodland Hills Mall on Monday night

Police deploy pepper balls at protesters outside Woodland Hills Mall on Monday night

Woodland Hills protests

Tulsa police officers stand behind smoke deterrents while attempting to break up a protest near 71st Street and Memorial Drive on Monday. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Update (1:30 a.m.): Tulsa police and the Oklahoma National Guard deployed another round of tear gas at demonstrators as the group, primarily young people, moved closer to Guard soldiers clad in riot gear while chanting "Hands up, Don't shoot" and "We are peace."

Police Chief Wendell Franklin said late Monday that the National Guard is being used as a "force multiplier" because local police officers are struggling to reach the numerous businesses in the 71st Street and Memorial Drive corridor before they sustain property damage. He said he was respectful of peaceful protest efforts, but Franklin contended that the assembly stopped being classified as peaceful when protesters threw "projectiles" in officers' direction.

Activists who organized demonstrations in Tulsa on Saturday and Sunday have said those gathered near Woodland Hills Mall on Monday night are not associated or aligned with their efforts.

A protester attempted to defuse the conflict early Tuesday by telling those assembled near the Vitamin Shoppe in the Centre 71 shopping center that Mayor G.T. Bynum had already agreed to make changes activists requested, including putting an end to the A&E show "Live PD" filming in Tulsa.

Many in the crowd could be heard asking people not to antagonize police officers or Guard soldiers in any way.

"There was progress made with that group, but there's so much more that we have to do," Franklin told the Tulsa World of the meeting city officials had with activists Monday afternoon. "I get that. I understand that. But some of these groups that are forming are using this as a platform to antagonize and loot and to create unruliness. And we can't stand for that in our society. We are a society of laws."

At least two dozen Guard soldiers assembled in the area after arriving in a dark bus, all carrying riot shields and warning demonstrators to keep their distance before releasing canisters of tear gas. Franklin said he wasn't sure yet how many people had been arrested but that "multiple" arrests were related to activities that took place Monday night.

A Tulsa World reporter observed at least two local television stations terminate their Facebook Live broadcasts after midnight Tuesday upon request from authorities at the scene. Shortly after those feeds turned off, a citizen who was still at the protest captured Facebook Live footage of authorities releasing large amounts of tear gas around 1 a.m. The video did not show a specific act from protesters that led to the use of irritants.

Protesters then began to clear the 71st and Memorial intersection, and officers, along with members of the Guard, moved away from view. A World reporter said on Twitter that the region was mostly empty by 1:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Tulsa County Public Defender's Office posted a Tweet Monday night offering legal assistance to those who are jailed while participating in protests. The agency noted that it participates in a daily bond docket, including on weekends, that can help speed up protesters' release as they fight possible charges.

The Tulsa World asked Franklin about the rationale behind bringing the National Guard into a tense environment as an aid to officers' efforts to protect businesses. Though Franklin acknowledged that the property at issue can be replaced, he said the damage affects business owners' livelihoods and that we "can't allow lawlessness" to occur.

Among the damaged businesses were a Baskin Robbins and a nearby restaurant, as well as the Vitamin Shoppe store.

"Here we are during a pandemic, … and these businesses are suffering," Franklin said. "From our perspective, these individuals are already just trying to make ends meet, and now you're breaking windows and attempting to take their merchandise. They have their right to that property and to try to make a living in society."

The story below published in Tuesday's Tulsa World

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard were embedded with Tulsa police Monday night as they continued attempts to clear protesters from the 71st Street and Memorial Drive corridor, using pepper balls and tear gas at least three times amid reports of property damage.

The Police Department said in social media posts late Monday that “multiple parties in the (area) have gone from a lawful assembly to an unlawful assembly. There have been businesses that have been broken into. Multiple objects have been thrown at law enforcement in the area. We have used pepperballs and a gas irritant in an effort to disperse the crowd.”

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin said in a tweet just before 10:20 p.m. that “businesses are attempting to recover from a pandemic and now owners must face destruction of their property? There is no logic in destruction. It is unacceptable!”

“If you are vandalizing and destroying property you aren’t helping anything,” his tweet continued.

The protest was in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, as well as other police-reform issues.

Just after 11 p.m., Franklin announced that the Police Department would make use of the National Guard in its response and thanked Gov. Kevin Stitt for having authorizing Guard assistance.

“@NationalGuard is on the ground and embedded with @TulsaPolice,” he wrote.

Facebook Live broadcasts and Tulsa World photographs showed broken windows at the Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor near 68th Street and Memorial Drive and a neighboring restaurant. Businesses in the region, including Woodland Hills Mall, had closed early Monday in anticipation of demonstrations.

But organizers of protests that took place in Tulsa on Saturday and Sunday warned Monday afternoon that the efforts near the mall were unrelated to their efforts to have peaceful demonstrations around Tulsa. Similarly, police have said they don’t think those who damaged businesses in the Brookside area on Sunday night were aligned with those protesters.

As of 10:50 p.m. Monday, police said protesters had moved to the 61st Street and Memorial Drive intersection, where they began marching following the use of tear gas farther south.

The crowd had lined each side of Memorial north of 71st Street, holding #BlackLivesMatter signs and chanting intermittently. Social media rumors that looting would occur had led law enforcement to lock down the mall that afternoon.

The protest was not organized by Black Lives Matter.

After night fell, protesters congregated in parking lots at shopping centers, darted across Memorial Drive into traffic and walked from the sidewalks into the southbound lanes of the street, prompting police to use intercoms to tell them to stay on the sidewalk and leave the shopping center property. The protesters — mostly teenagers or young adults — were concentrated in front of Ollie’s on the west side of Memorial.

Police announced to the crowd that they were trespassing and that “this is now an unlawful assembly.”

“We will not allow the destruction of property. We will not allow violence toward officers or citizens,” the announcements continued.

“If you do not leave now, force will be used against you and you will be subject to arrest.”

An announcement that “this is your final warning” sent most of the protesters out of the parking lot and back to the sidewalk along Memorial Drive.

In social media posts, the Police Department urged residents to stay away from the area, saying: “This is no longer considered a peaceful assembly and there are several agitators mixed in with the crowd. Please avoid this area as vehicle traffic is not possible at this time”

There was some disagreement among protesters who “came to fight” and those trying to keep the demonstration peaceful. A man who apparently was an agitator tore down a road side in the median, and peaceful protesters knelt in the same median.

Police closed both northbound and southbound traffic on Memorial Drive north of 71st Street while the protesters were in the area.

It wasn’t clear late Monday whether anyone had been injured or any arrests had been made.

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Staff Writer

I write because I care about people, policing and peace, and I believe the most informed people make the best decisions. I joined the Tulsa World in 2019 and currently cover breaking news. Phone: 918-581-8455

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