by Staff Writer Raynell Joseph
As we wrap up the public hearings into racially biased policing in Tulsa, let’s acknowledge the great work of City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Demanding a JUSTulsa, and the organizing it took to push the Council in this direction. It was an eight month process of infuriating excuses from the Council that ended in a unanimous vote to hold the hearings. I was there that night and it was a historic moment where the power of the people was palpable. Tulsa, a city that is behind in numerous ways, especially in the areas of race and equitable policing practices, has joined the ranks of Baltimore, Portland, Chicago, and Columbia, Missouri in holding these hearings.
There’s also a need to acknowledge the Black Tulsans who continue to bravely stand and recount traumatic police encounters before the Council. Reliving trauma is not easy. It is painful and can be down right torturous. The act of recounting a traumatic experience can add another layer of distress that one has to recover from. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, in a recent interview on The Bobby Eaton Show, shared her experience during that unforgettable night at City Council where she brought her brother’s belongings from scene of his senseless killing. “I had to do something so traumatic to me. I don’t even think I’m still over it.”
It was during the first listening session at City Hall where Simba Williams recounted his families’ traumatic encounters with the Tulsa Police Department that I began to struggle with the idea of community members reliving their trauma before the Council. Not only was it clearly painful for him to share his story, but it was made quite evident that night that it was falling on the ears of apathetic white people. I’m not sure how anyone could have been in that room and not experienced some sort of emotion listening to a fellow Tulsan be so vulnerable and share such a painful experience. However, it was made clear, and continues to be made clear, that these aren’t people who are willing to take on the responsibility that comes with empathy. We’re dealing with people who haven’t accepted that their reality is vastly different from black and brown people in this city. The Black Tulsans who choose to participate and attend these police accountability sessions live through direct and indirect trauma on a consistent basis and then relive it again before those who are complicit in the systems that caused the trauma in the first place.
Community activist Kristi Williams, who was instrumental in the establishment of the police accountability hearings, gave me a different perspective to consider. “I can’t change Phil’s way of thinking. I can’t change his heart. What I can do is steadily pick at that system that he has been born into and benefits from.” Ms. Williams implored me to see past the City Council when it comes to the public hearings. “In those hearings, I see people who gave their lives. I see the children we work with, Terrence Crutcher, my brother, Joshua Barre. I see Emmitt Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marcus Garvey, Ella Baker. I see my ancestors. I see them.”
History is filled with examples of African-Americans taking their grief and utilizing it to drive change. In fact, a black woman’s testimony was enough to scare the most powerful white man in the country. Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony demonstrated the power of the personal narrative. Mammie Till Mobley’s decision to have an open casket at her son’s funeral reignited the Civil Rights movement. It was the murder of 17-year old Trayvon Martin that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.
A friend recently shared a tweet by activist Ericka Hart that embodies where Tulsa is now: “How much of your racial justice work is explaining things to white people vs. liberating marginalized folks from thinking they must explain things to white people?” It’s time to stop explaining to individuals like City Councilor Cass Fahler, who have clearly biased views when comes to law enforcement and has continuously put said beliefs on blatant display, such as with his recent remarks on the Office of the Independent Monitoring (OIM) where he reduced it to merely “reward[ing] those who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, and lay[ing] the blame upon the providers of justice, our wonderful Tulsa Police Department.”
I don’t claim to know what the answers or next steps are in the journey to police reform in this city. Whether it’s people identifying ways to shift power and resources away from police, as organizers in these cities have done, utilizing unarmed mediation and intervention teams, as suggested in this Rolling Stone article, or demanding policies that reduce the “adversarial interactions people have with police” in Tulsa. What I do know for sure is that in addition to identifying ways to continue the fight, we must also turn our focus on supporting and restoring our fellow community members. We need to encourage them to take time off to address their mental health concerns and seek the help of professionals when needed. As Kristi mentioned, reach out and check on others when they cross your mind. We need to be that safe place for one another. After all, it is up to us to liberate, restore, and heal us for us.
Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore