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Success of new Tulsa Race Massacre reparations lawsuit hinges on state's nuisance law, attorneys say
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Success of new Tulsa Race Massacre reparations lawsuit hinges on state's nuisance law, attorneys say

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By arguing that the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre created a “public nuisance,” the effects of which still haunt north Tulsa’s Black community, the parties behind a new lawsuit believe they finally have found the key to achieving reparations.

“This is an emotional, historic day for me and my team and a historic lawsuit,” Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said Tuesday in announcing the lawsuit at a news conference at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

“We are so excited to finally get justice for Greenwood after 99 years. No one to this day has been held accountable. They got away with it. Until today.”

The lawsuit, filed earlier Tuesday in Tulsa County District Court, accuses the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa County Commission and other defendants of causing a public nuisance that continues to hurt the city’s north side and its residents.

The plaintiffs include one massacre survivor, 105-year-old Lessie Randle; a handful of descendants of survivors; Vernon AME Church; and the Tulsa African Ancestral Society.

Many massacre-related lawsuits have been pursued over the years, all of them unsuccessful. Most prominent was a 2003 federal lawsuit that was tripped up over the statute of limitations.

Solomon-Simmons is confident that this time will be different.

“This is a state case, and it relies on the state’s definition of a nuisance,” he said. “And there’s no statute of limitations on a nuisance. It’s there until it is abated.”

Under Oklahoma law, a nuisance is defined generally as the performance of an unlawful act, or the failure to perform a duty, that renders an individual insecure in the person’s life or ability to use property or endangers the person’s comfort or safety.

It is the same law that the state of Oklahoma relied on recently in its successful state lawsuits against opioid companies.

“They went back 40 years talking about how the nuisance was created and continued,” Solomon-Simmons said. “That’s the theory we are working with.”

Tulsa attorney Spencer Bryan, part of the legal team, said the 1921 Race Massacre “unquestionably” satisfies the definition of a public nuisance.

“The city of Tulsa destroyed an entire community and displaced its citizens,” he said. “The question is: Does the massacre and its effects continue today? The answer is an unequivocal yes.”

“We believe that this case is a righteous case,” Bryan added. “And it is substantially supported by the evidence.”

In addition to the nuisance claim, the suit makes one other claim — unjust enrichment.

The argument is that the city, county and chamber have unjustly enriched themselves by appropriating the story of the Greenwood District and using it to make money.

The lawsuit seeks to recoup all money raised by the defendants in their efforts to turn Greenwood into a tourist attraction.

That money would then go toward creation of a victim’s compensation fund and a scholarship fund for descendants.

The Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon AME Church said it’s time the city answered for “profiting off the human suffering they caused.”

Greenwood “is so much more than a tourist site,” he added. “It is a crime scene.”

Solomon-Simmons said there are two known survivors of the massacre, Randle and Viola Fletcher, 106, of Bartlesville.

Another one, Hal Singer, died recently at 100.

“I’m sorry we could not get this filed before we lost Mr. Singer,” Solomon-Simmons said. “He was very excited about this litigation.”

“We know this is going to be a long fight,” he added. “Could be three, four years. But I think we have a really good shot.”


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Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon AME Church is a plaintiff in the Tulsa Race Massacre lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921

Tim Stanley

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<&rdpEm>Twitter: @timstanleyTW</&rdpEm>

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