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Watch Now: Brookside protest in response to Minnesota police violence
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Watch Now: Brookside protest in response to Minnesota police violence

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Standing on Peoria Avenue in midtown Tulsa’s Brookside neighborhood on Saturday, Vernon A.M.E. Rev. Robert Turner told at least 1,000 demonstrators that the United States was battling a disease that began long before the current pandemic.

“Before COVID-19, America’s virus was racism,” he said. “We are sick and tired of this disease. We demand a vaccine. Social distancing can’t kill racism. A face mask can’t kill racism. Nothing but the truth can cure it.”

The country has “never grappled with how pervasive” racism is, Turner said.

“Our country has had a problem with racism since the beginning,” he said, and the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor during their interactions with police are just the most recent examples.

Demonstrations across the U.S. took place after Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. He also was accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd as he lay handcuffed on the ground, pleading that he could not breathe as Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Floyd, who was black, had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a store.

When discussing why Saturday’s protest occurred in Brookside, an affluent and majority white area of Tulsa, Turner said it was important to get people’s attention while they are “out to brunch” on the patios at Brookside restaurants rather than engaging with those drawing attention to injustice.

Demonstrators began gathering around 33rd Place and Peoria Avenue before 1 p.m., prompting Tulsa police to restrict vehicle access to the area as the streets became filled with people lying down in protest of police brutality.

“I respect the Tulsans who used their time today to show other Tulsans that they care for the lives of their neighbors — that they want this to be a better city and that every life is sacred,” Mayor G.T. Bynum wrote in a Facebook post Saturday evening. “I want to thank the men and women of the Tulsa Police Department who worked throughout the day to keep the protesters safe as they voiced their beliefs.”

Protesters called peacefully for Bynum to follow through on plans to establish an Office of the Independent Monitor to evaluate police use-of-force cases, as well as advocated for an increase in funding for mental health resources and for an end to the TV show LivePD filming in Tulsa.

“If you all could just scream at the top of your lungs and let Terence know that you still care, that you haven’t forgotten,” Tiffany Crutcher, Terence Crutcher’s surviving twin sister, told the crowd before the march began.

Meanwhile, Greg Robinson, one of the event’s organizers, criticized Bynum for what he viewed as inaction to help provide justice for black Tulsans.

“We’re not out here just marching for no reason,” Robinson said, referencing Crutcher’s 2016 death and more recent fatal police shootings elsewhere, as well as the deaths in Tulsa of Joshua Barre and Joshua Harvey. The protesters also called for the city to settle pending lawsuits related to those deaths.

“We’re not out here because we just woke up mad today. We’ve been mad. We’ve been going to city hall,” Robinson said. “Everybody loves you, Mayor Bynum, because you talk good. But your actions don’t match your talk.”

The group then marched south on Peoria Avenue and eventually took over a portion of Interstate 44 west of Lewis Avenue, where white demonstrators formed a line to protect the identities of protesters of color from law enforcement. Numerous protesters lay down on the interstate and chanted, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” — a reference to Floyd’s death and also the death of Eric Garner in New York.

“I came out here because everything is so frustrating to see,” said Liz Franzen, a newcomer to Tulsa from Chicago. “I don’t understand why people continue to hate other people because of the color of their skin.” Franzen said lying down on the interstate during that portion of the march made her feel she and others “really got people’s attention.”

Tulsa Police officers and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol kept their distance as they blocked cars from traveling on the interstate, but one protester, Carmyn Taylor, was hospitalized after being hit by a motorist. The incident was the only reported injury related to the planned protest.

“Me and a lot of the other (protesters) kind of swooped to try to stop the car and (the driver) gassed it and my leg caught the tractor he was pulling,” Taylor said. “And then he sped up again and it flipped me over, threw me to the ground and flipped me again.”

A video Taylor provided to the Tulsa World Saturday evening shows multiple protesters running toward the left lane on Interstate 44 westbound after a dark vehicle sped along the shoulder despite protesters occupying the area. Taylor described sustaining significant bruising but did not have broken bones from the incident.

Shortly after the incident on Interstate 44, the group walked along Skelly Avenue in the direction of Bynum’s residence in hopes of communicating with him directly. However, Bynum wasn’t at his house, prompting the gathering to move again to the Brookside business area north of 36th Street and South Peoria Avenue.

Bynum criticized the move in a Facebook post Saturday evening. He wrote that “I’ve been asked if I will meet with activists to discuss their aspirations for the city. My answer: Of course” but said he will not “agree to a list of demands because people block streets, shut down highways, or come to my family’s home.”

“Change occurs in Tulsa through collaboration, deliberation and thoughtful action — not through attempts at intimidation,” Bynum wrote.


Gallery: Tulsans march in protest in response to police violence in Minnesota

Samantha Vicent

918-581-8321

samantha.vicent

@tulsaworld.com

Twitter:

@samanthavicent

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