In the aftermath of the murder on Good Friday of three and wounding of two innocent Tulsans in a random shooting spree in predominantly black north Tulsa, two white suspects have been charged and await trial. This much we know.
We also know we must keep the victims' families and friends in our hopes and prayers for healing and recovery from this heinous crime against humanity and right reason. (See UTW's coverage on City, Page 14.)
This is what we conjecture and emote:
The Easter weekend outrage was a purposeful "outing" with a vindictive focus. Apparently, and some of this from the two suspects themselves admitting, two white predators set out for revenge of a wrong committed some time ago that took the life of one of the suspect's father. So clearly the murderers' intent was to randomly assail only blacks. The result of this hate crime was a horrendous blow to the family of man and a giant step backward by two fellow members of the human race.
But, the onslaught produced an amazing, community-driven mobilization sparked by north Tulsa ministry leadership, a stout police deployment by TPD Chief Chuck Jordan with visible support from Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and excellent backup from the Tulsa County Sheriff's department and the FBI. As UTW readers surely know, the two truck-borne suspects, who soon after capture confessed to the outrages, were quickly rounded up, brought to the David Moss Detention Center and retained with multimillion dollar bails.
North Tulsa's church/community leadership folks, a handful of Crime Watch callers, a keenly determined Councilor Jack Henderson, and the visibly angry TPD Chief Jordan deserve the deep thanks of every Tulsan for saving us from what might have become a multi-week killing spasm.
Some Want to Call Them "Monsters"
As it happens, the "lead" assailant is a highly traumatized individual -- one of thousands in the metro area: a tragic person who, unlike the very great majority of psychologically damaged citizens, became an ultra-violent monster. In play: a deluded predator who apparently decided that since a black person was implicated in his father's death that any black person -- or in this case, a slew of black people -- would "pay" for the death of his daddy.
And here we have the key to understanding the moral agenda of those, myself included, who want the assailants to be charged with a "hate crime" in addition to multiple murder complaints -- even if, under Oklahoma law, doing so only adds a little to a typical sentence. Violent crime is always big crime, but our society should make it very clear that people who do violence with a racial/ethnic or gender animus will be punished more harshly than "ordinary monsters": because hate crimes have an outsized capacity to rend our social fabric, foment cross group antagonisms and undermine the central promise of the American project.
A feverish, wholly positive engagement lead by people like the Rev. Warren Blakney, NAACP Tulsa president, and minister-in-chief at North Peoria Church of Christ and Dr. Ray A. Owens, pastor of Tulsa's Metro Baptist Church, almost certainty fostered the climate that sparked the community-sourced tips/police agility that quickly ended the run of the Good Friday killers. Another source of support, and a strong intellectual and moral leader in the event, was Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls Unitarian Church, who only days before Good Friday was selected by Tulsa's Antioch Baptist Church for a special address: Lavenhar lead a powerful, prescient memorial/mediation for Florida teenager/victim Trayvon Martin.
Learned During The "Fire": Community Policing Works
What we have secured is an ironic illumination, by virtue of the deadly work of the Good Friday monsters, of a potent avenue for linking police to community dynamics and the hot pluralism that increasingly defines Tulsa. Ratcheting up trust between north side community leaders and ordinary folks is, as we "discovered" last week, a supremely effective way of securing critical intel. on "bad guys" and forestalling evildoers. What we learned is that effective policing -- especially the "on the ground," community-centered practice that some called community policing -- only happens when neighborhood leaders and ordinary folks alike, people who want violence free environments and authentic justice, believe TPD can be trusted and will fully respect the entire community.
As I've written in these pages before, setting up a civilian/police oversight body would provide the Tulsa Police Department and our elected officials with a panoramic, "always on" conception of how policing in Tulsa is working, how citizens in various walks of life perceive it and how safety might be enhanced.
A permanent police/citizens oversight panel, if we follow examples from across the country, would hold the bulk of its sessions in public -- the oversight body might be appointed by the Mayor and TPD Chief Jordan and feature representation from the City Council, the human resources industry, from the ministry, and the civil rights, law and judicial communities and from the TPD. And we need it now more than ever -- a citizens' oversight panel is far from a panacea, but it could permanently "install" the grand dynamics that produced the expeditious capture of the Good Friday monsters.
Mind the Gap
Ongoing racial/social reconciliation gambits led by long-standing Tulsa-based organizations, including the Metro Chamber's Mosaic project, Tulsa's Urban League, All Souls Unitarian's new "inter cultural" project and the work of Drew Diamond and the Tulsa Jewish Federation, are underway in Tulsa. Add the efforts of the local Conference on Community and Justice, and the Tulsa YWCA's anti-racism campaign -- all great examples as well meriting renewed attention by Tulsa's leadership.
Sit on it. Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Jr. and Councilor Jack Henderson listen to Rev. Jessie Jackson speak.
Tulsa is a place with a blinkered racial history: the savage events of 1921 are emotionally just around the bend; but 2012 is not 1921. And while no town can insure that demented people with racist impulses will never again engage in the senseless acts we witnessed on Good Friday weekend, we can be proactive. Crafting a "leapfrog," racially-sophisticated town means re-purposing some of the chutzpah, some of the moxie we've put into downtown development, the oil patch, some facets of our cultural world and into the pan-cultural riffs that have long propelled Tulsa's rich musical scene. We need to invest much more social capital into minding our social/racial and class "gaps."
Now, like never before, we need a stout round of locally fashioned social innovation -- maybe, something like a deft fusion of advanced social networking--the old '60s style encounter group regimes and the business "mixers" some of us once attended.
What's needed is a big basket of relaxed, grassroots level cultural "reset" that will allow Tulsans of every stripe, tribe and outlook to get much closer to one another and jointly experience the panoramic, can-do crib that we jointly inhabit without fear, suspicion or violence.
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