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Mayor condemns Tulsa police major's comments; state representative calls for his firing; police chief reviewing situation

Mayor condemns Tulsa police major's comments; state representative calls for his firing; police chief reviewing situation


A Tulsa police major’s comments on a local radio show Tuesday drew a series of condemnations from community leaders and from his own police department Wednesday.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said the statements made by Maj. Travis Yates are the opposite of what the Tulsa Police Department is trying to accomplish in the community. Other leaders said they believe Yates should resign, and a state representative said he should be fired.

Yates spoke on the Pat Campbell Show on Talk Radio 1170 on Tuesday. He discussed “defunding the police,” chokeholds, police relations and policy. He denied the existence of systemic racism several times and also discussed officer-involved shootings.

“By the way, all the research on this says … we’re shooting African-Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be based on the crimes being committed,” Yates said, later telling the Tulsa World he was referencing controversial research from an economist, as well as a conservative commentator and the National Academy of Sciences.

“I want to believe he didn’t intend to say what he did, but what he did say goes against everything we are trying to achieve in community policing,” Bynum wrote in a Facebook post.

The Tulsa Police Department issued a statement saying it didn’t “condone or support” Yates’ comments and that they are being reviewed by the Internal Affairs Unit.

Yates’ statements also prompted a news conference from the president of the Tulsa Police Department’s Black Officers Coalition, who said the comments reflect a broader problem with police.

“The issue is the culture of policing,” Tulsa Police Lt. Marcus Harper said. Harper specified that he wasn’t representing the Tulsa Police Department with his comments but was representing the Black Officers Coalition.

“That’s what we’re fighting against — the culture of policing,” he said. “Because these are the things that we’ve done historically. We’ve done them this way all the time.”

Harper said Yates has made similar controversial statements in recent years. He said he believes that the statements represent Yates’ views. Several times Harper mentioned Yates’ statement: “… we’re shooting African-Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be. …”

“He said what he said, and he meant what he said,” Harper said. “It’s like he’s trying to appease a certain audience, and that audience is the law enforcement community. What’s dangerous is when those inside of the law enforcement community are influenced by what he says. … That is the issue, and there’s no way around it.”

During his radio interview, Yates discussed systemic racism, claiming it isn’t an issue in police departments.

“They can’t give you specifics, and as I said earlier, (systemic racism) doesn’t exist. … When you look at something that’s systematic, you have to look at the overall compounded data,” Yates said, referencing U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s statements about racism and policing. “Now, we’re not saying there’s not individual racist police officers; that’d be stupid.”

In his Facebook post, Bynum said Yates “does not speak for my administration, for the Tulsa Police Department, or the City of Tulsa. His comments are under review by the Chief’s Office.

“And if he didn’t mean to make the statement in the way it has been received, he owes Tulsans a clarification and an apology,” the mayor said.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, the Tulsa Police Department said the matter had been referred to the Internal Affairs Unit.

“We appreciate and respect the concerns we are hearing from the community regarding these comments,” the department said in its statement. “Chief Wendell Franklin and the Tulsa Police Department want to make it very clear we do not endorse, condone or support Yates’ comments made on the show. …

“We want to make it clear the statements made by Yates are not a part of any curriculum or training provided by the Department. Yates’ comments do not align with the mission, values or policies of the Tulsa Police Department.”

The TPD statement notes that Yates is assigned to the Records Division, “which is primarily staffed with civilian employees.”

Yates’ statements came when he was not on duty, according to TPD, “and are neither official representations of the Department nor of his fellow officers.”

Yates said on Campbell’s show that he has received at least two death threats.

“I think that we need to have a healthy debate on that,” Yates said in an interview Wednesday with the Tulsa World. “We have to leave the tension at the door and just have an honest dialogue.”

In a prepared statement on Yates’ Facebook page, he wrote that news coverage of his statements “does not reflect my hypothetical discussion of statistics based on the research of others.”

Yates condemned notions that he advocates for more police violence against people of color.

“This is plainly false and factually inaccurate,” he said in the statement. “And to think that beyond a discussion of comparative statistics that I would suggest that the ‘police should actually be shooting’ anyone is simply outrageous.”

Marq Lewis, a community activist with We the People Oklahoma, called for Yates’ resignation in 2016 after a previous incident and called for it again this week.

“When people listen to Travis Yates, they see a representation of the Tulsa Police Department,” Lewis said.

He criticized Yates’ statements for emphasizing statistics about people of color in lieu of a broader look at data and facts.

“He may not be the trigger finger, but he is certainly giving people the power to go out there and shoot and the mentality that black people are criminals,” Lewis said.

Harper did not call for TPD to take action against Yates during his news conference because “nothing is going to happen,” adding that the major is protected by the First Amendment.

Following the conference, community activist Tiffany Crutcher said she believes that Yates should be forced to resign or at least demoted.

“He’s made several comments that are antithetical to the oath that he swears to as a police officer,” said Crutcher, whose brother Terence Crutcher was killed by a Tulsa police officer in 2016.

“Personally, in my humble opinion, there’s no place for his comments or rhetoric within one of the most powerful entities in this country, and that’s law enforcement,” she said. “Those comments, all they do is divide when we’re trying to bridge that fear, bridge that mistrust and ultimately better the relationships between the black community and law enforcement.”

State Rep. Regina Goodwin, whose House district includes north Tulsa, took it a step further, calling for Yates to be fired.

Her animosity toward the major goes back to 2016, when he faced criticism for an editorial stating that police are “at war.”

Goodwin said she was collaborating with Yates to host an event on community policing when he made the controversial comment four years ago.

“He’s had a history of this publicly,” Goodwin said. “When he said that, I said there’s no way in the world he can come in here and try to have a symposium on community policing and you think you’re at war with us,” she said. “So that comment and all the way up to this most recent comment he made about how we’re probably shooting black folks 20% less than we should be, he should not be in that position as an officer while I’m paying him as a taxpayer.”

In an interview with the Tulsa World on Wednesday, Yates said he wrote the 2016 editorial following the slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He said the article was not meant to imply that police are at war with Black Lives Matter protesters.

Yates stressed to the Tulsa World that his statements were made as an individual and that the Tulsa Police Department should be insulated from them.

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, expressed outrage at Yates’ most recent comments during a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol to outline his reform proposals. Like others, he was most concerned about the 24% claim regarding police shootings of African Americans.

“I don’t believe that any officer who not only feels that way but is bold enough to go on a radio station and publicly voice those attitudes will ever have the confidence of the public that is required to be a good law enforcement officer,” Nichols said.

“I certainly have no confidence in his ability to do his job, and hopefully some corrective action is taken.

“I will also say on that topic, I was proud to see the Tulsa Black Officers Coalition push back against those comments.”

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