Dashing into the street in front of City Hall, Black Lives Matter demonstrators quickly unfolded a template and opened buckets of yellow paint early Saturday afternoon.
A pair of police cars, lights flashing, appeared almost immediately. But by the time uniformed officers were ordering demonstrators out of the street, “or you will be arrested,” the paint was down and the template was being pulled up.
The letters “BLM” remained. City workers, however, power washed the pavement less than two hours later, trying to erase the letters after demonstrators had left the area.
The Black Lives Matter rally had begun at the so-called Center of the Universe, a landmark pedestrian bridge in downtown Tulsa, where about 50 demonstrators gathered late Saturday morning.
Speakers condemned the city for removing a Black Lives Matter mural from the pavement on Greenwood Avenue, put there without a permit just days before President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally at the BOK Center.
“Systemic racism is real,” said Alicia Andrews, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, during Saturday’s rally. “It’s part of everything we do.”
Removing the Black Lives Mural from Greenwood was “absolutely a mirror of what’s going on in Oklahoma,” she said.
Crews repaved the street last week after city leaders said they couldn’t find a legal way to let the message remain there without letting other groups paint other slogans on other roads. But demonstrators pointed out that other cities have allowed BLM street mural to remain, and several of the speakers at the rally Saturday described Tulsa’s decision as an act of “white supremacy.”
“I don’t believe in violence,” said Nehemiah Frank, one of the rally’s organizers and the executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. “But I do believe in civil disobedience.”
He then led the demonstrators toward City Hall, arriving shortly after noon. That group was followed closely by another unassociated group of about a dozen armed citizens, carrying rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests with masks covering their faces.
At City Hall, the armed group watched quietly from the south side of Second Street while the demonstrators painted “BLM” in the northern lanes.
Most demonstrators returned to the sidewalk as soon as the paint was down, with police just then walking toward them. But officers took at least two men away in handcuffs after they refused to get out of the street.
Within minutes, a second, smaller group of BLM demonstrators left the Greenwood District and came marching south on Cincinnati Avenue toward City Hall. As they approached, organizers of the first group used a bull horn to order their members to disperse.
“They are not with us,” Frank told the crowd. “We have made our point.”
Most demonstrators from the first group then walked back to the Center of the Universe while the second group stood on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, where they chanted “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and other slogans.
Police stood nearby, with some officers carrying pepper-ball guns, but no confrontations occurred. And after about half an hour, the second group of demonstrators walked back toward the Greenwood District, followed again by the group of armed citizens.
Members of the armed group declined to speak to the Tulsa World.
Earlier at the Center of the Universe, the first group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators had watched yet another, separate march west along Archer Street, escorted by several police cars and chanting pro-police slogans. The Tulsa Faith and Blue Prayer March started at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park with the goal to show support for local law enforcement.
“I don’t want to hear anybody boo,” Frank told his demonstrators. “We believe in democracy.”
Instead of confronting the pro-police marchers, the Black Lives Matter demonstrators applauded as they passed by, with the two groups staying about half a block away from each other.
Gallery: Black Lives Matter demonstration held in protest of city’s removal of Greenwood street mural