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Watch Now: Lawyers for Tulsa Race Massacre survivors demand financial investment poured into Greenwood

Watch Now: Lawyers for Tulsa Race Massacre survivors demand financial investment poured into Greenwood

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Solomon-Simmons: 'We need reparations. We need reparations today. We need reparations now. And that is what this lawsuit is about.'

Clarification: When this story was published it described a tax break being sought as part of the legal action. The lawsuit seeks immunity from all city and county taxes, fees, assessments and/or utility expenses for massacre survivors or descendants of those who were killed, injured or lost property in the massacre. The story has been updated. 

In the same way the U.S. financially helped rebuild Europe after World War II, the Justice for Greenwood Foundation wants the government to pump substantial money and programs into north Tulsa to restore the prosperity annihilated in the 1921 Race Massacre.

A Tulsa County judge will decide whether a lawsuit that seeks a wide range of damages stemming from the devastation of Greenwood a century ago can proceed after attorneys for the three known living survivors and some descendants filed documents Tuesday rebutting motions for dismissal.

McKenzie Haynes, a lawyer with New York-based Schulte, Roth & Zabel, listed in a news conference Wednesday what the lawsuit seeks, which includes immunity from all city and county taxes, fees, assessments and/or utility expenses for massacre survivors or descendants of those who were killed, injured or lost property in the massacre. 

Also, a victims’ compensation fund, a hospital to be built in north Tulsa and a scholarship program.

“What we’re asking for is for the nuisance to be abated. Simple as that,” Haynes said. “The nuisance is specific here in Tulsa; it is targeted to Tulsa; it is related to the massacre that happened in Tulsa; and we want the remedy to be here for the folks who deserve it.”

The plaintiffs want to present a case for trial based on what they say is the same theory — a public nuisance statute — used by the state of Oklahoma to sue and win a $270 million settlement from pharmaceutical companies for harm inflicted by the opioid crisis here.

The defendants are the city of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Tulsa Development Authority, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Oklahoma Military Department. The lawsuit was filed in September.

A spokesperson said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation. She provided a news release that commemorates the massacre and lists what the city says are 15 city-led economic and community development efforts that are related to revitalizing Greenwood and north Tulsa.

The list includes a $5.3 million upgrade to the Greenwood Cultural Center, the Greenwood Art Project, Oasis Fresh Market grocery store and the Aero Rapid Transit bus route.

Haynes said a public nuisance was created in 1921 when a white mob looted, destroyed and murdered in Greenwood, with subsequent governmental practices and policies to this day that “elevate and exacerbate” the nuisance.

Haynes said she was most struck by the absence of a hospital in north Tulsa. One was destroyed in the massacre and never rebuilt.

“Our survivors are victims and witnesses to the worst act of domestic terrorism that this country has ever seen,” Haynes said. “They’re witnesses to murder, to arson, to other heinous crimes.”

Damario Solomon-Simmons is the Tulsa lawyer leading the Justice for Greenwood Foundation’s lawsuit.

Similar to the Marshall Plan, which sent billions of dollars in economic aid to Western Europe after World War II, he said there needs to be a “Greenwood Plan” to revive the economic, cultural and social fabric of the community decimated by the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Solomon-Simmons said research indicates that the wealth disparity between white and Black Tulsans is more than six times that of the national average. He also nodded toward the 11- to 14-year life expectancy gap identified by the Tulsa Equality Indicators report.

“This is why museums, plaques, trees and murals are good, but we must eradicate the wealth gap,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We must eradicate the health gap.”

He described the Tulsa that is south of Interstate 244 as a fully functioning and modern city. Meanwhile, north Tulsa — his community — is akin to a third-world country, he said.

“It is a food desert; it is a health desert; it is an education desert; and it’s a police terror zone,” Solomon-Simmons said.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said in the news release referenced by the city spokesperson that he has dedicated his administration to addressing the disparities that exist in Tulsa.

“Through our graves investigation, resilience work, and focused economic development strategies, we are working to decrease the 11-year life expectancy gap that exists between children that live in North Tulsa and children that live in other parts of our city,” Bynum said.

“We have announced over a billion dollars in private investment in North Tulsa during the last five years, with the addition of transit and mobility infrastructure and targeted economic development endeavors to bridge a part of our city that has been neglected for far too long.”

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Schulte Roth & Zabel's McKenzie Haynes talks about lawsuit


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Staff Writer

I am a general assignment reporter who predominately writes about public health, public safety and justice reform. I'm in journalism to help make this community, state, country and, ultimately, world a better place.

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