Tulsa isn’t the same as it was five years ago when a police officer shot to death an unarmed Black man. But, it hasn’t changed enough.
The anniversary of Terence Crutcher’s death last week was marked by activism and reflection. Petitions circulated to prompt city leaders into police reforms, and a candlelight vigil was held.
Details of what happened that day when former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby approached Crutcher at his disabled car were captured on video and played out on a national stage.
Immediately, Tulsans picked apart what they saw based on their own experiences. They saw the same thing but came to different conclusions. It was clear the city was already a divided community.
As reporter Kevin Canfield noted in his story about the anniversary, “Everything that led up to that moment and everything that came after it — a police officer on trial, a police officer acquitted, protests, a lawsuit — colors Tulsans’ perceptions of the present.”
Crutcher’s death ignited a movement that continues prodding Tulsans to face the city’s inequities, biases and stereotypes.
Police transparency and oversight became the highest priority among activists.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum proposed an Office of Independent Monitor that was never fully supported by the Fraternal Order of Police and was eventually dropped after pushback from some city councilors and advocates who wanted more authority given to the monitor.
After each side dug in, nothing was done, despite ongoing public demands for change.
When Chief Wendell Franklin was hired last year, he introduced an internal use-of-force review board and restarted community advisory boards, chosen by the Crime Prevention Network. It’s a start, but a far cry from independent oversight and auditing.
The city created a Resilient Tulsa strategy to address racial disparities found in the annual Equality Indicators reports that began in 2018. Those measure areas around race and ethnicity, such as home ownership, educational achievement and types of neighborhood businesses.
The mayor deserves credit for publishing data that don’t reflect well on the city. We can’t fix problems that we haven’t completely uncovered.
We have this now and need interventions. A team is in place to do that, and we look forward to seeing those programs.
But, at this point, there hasn’t been much change since Crutcher’s death.
Plenty of blame can go around for the stagnation of progress on reforms. Both sides have shown an unwillingness to compromise or meet halfway.
Tulsa needs its leaders to find some common ground, to start somewhere in pushing forward changes to avoid another controversial police shooting of an unarmed Black man.