Oklahoma Tulsa

How Tulsa, Oklahoma, mirrored a fractured nation during Trump’s rally – NBC News

TULSA, Okla. — To the Rev. Robert R.A. Turner, pastor of Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the only building left partly standing on Greenwood Avenue after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, a palpable divide over everything from politics to health and science is a part of everyday life here.

In this city, the vast majority of the white population votes Republican, and in the 2016 election, just over 65 percent of the state voted for Donald Trump. In predominantly white South Tulsa, some stare when they spot people wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Yet Turner’s church in North Tulsa has delivered more than 60,000 free meals to the needy and those rendered desperate by the crisis.

Tulsa last week was a city perhaps only as divided as the country around it. And it was where the president’s sparsely attended rally held up a kind of mirror to just how fractured the nation has become.

Mayor G.T. Bynum, who is white and Republican, has supported a civilian police oversight commission while leaving the police union with a different impression, and he has downplayed the role of race in police shootings that left two Black men dead since he was elected in 2016. In the days before Trump held a campaign rally here Saturday night, a top-ranking police officer denied that systemic racism shapes the city’s police department. In fact, the officer said, the department’s officers “probably ought to” shoot Black people more often. Bynum and the chief of police, who is Black, denounced the officer’s comments.

“This is a place where not one district attorney has launched a single investigation into a race massacre that occurred right here in 1921,” said Turner, whose church is the only Black-owned property on Greenwood Avenue, once the pulsating center of the Tulsa business district known as Black Wall Street. Turner joined a group that called on Bynum to cancel Trump’s event. “And a good portion of the population still have no idea what happened here at all,” he said.

After Trump’s rally, Vernon AME projected a giant Black Lives Matter sign on the side of its sanctuary, creating a kind of beacon in the night. When police discharged pepper balls into a group of protesters who gathered near BOK Center, where Trump spoke Saturday, about 1,000 marched to a space near the church.

“This is the most divided we have ever been since the Civil War,” Bill Schneider, a professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said in a telephone interview after the rally.

“In some ways, I would say that the things that are happening now happened in many places before the Civil War,” Schneider said. “Churches, organizations, all sorts of institutions were splitting. Back then, it was over the slavery issue. Now, it’s really over Donald Trump.”

Outside BOK Center on Saturday, those divisions manifested themselves in ways big and small.

Sisters Lori Levi and Donna Fitzsimons came from Detroit with a trailer full of Trump merchandise. The women parked three blocks from BOK Center, as close as police and the barricades would allow. By the day of the rally, the sisters hardly had time to eat.

Two of their bestsellers were a red T-shirt with “45²” printed on it and a black shirt with an American flag and a cross with the words “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR” and “TRUMP IS MY PRESIDENT.”

Unmasked customers at Brietta’s Buttons, the mobile Trump merchandise shop owned and brought to Tulsa, Okla., by Michigan sisters Lori Levi and Donna Fitzsimons, on Friday, June 19, 2020.Janell Ross / NBC News

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“People want to show Trump, our president, some support and a lot of respect,” Levi, who is white, said after explaining to a second person in a line of nine unmasked customers that only XLs remained of the “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR” design. Levi was not surprised. “A lot of them feel like that’s what our country really needs, a lot more respect for our president.”

The Trump event — which was attended by a small fraction of the 1 million people his campaign had predicted — came a day after Oklahoma health officials announced that while coronavirus deaths had declined in the state, 1,728 new cases had been detected, a 140.3 percent jump from the previous week. And by Monday, the state had joined the ranks of those reporting record high case counts. The Trump administration also announced Monday that two of its staff members in attendance Saturday tested positive afterward, even though they were wearing masks during the rally.

Just 3 miles northeast of BOK Center, in a small Greenwood district storefront that Cleo Harris Jr. opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, Harris and his entire family also scrambled to keep up with the sudden demand for their merchandise. Cubbies and shelves that for months had been full of T-shirts with phrases like “Black Wall Street” and “I Can’t Breathe” were running low. The customers — most of them masked — wanted more.

Harris, who is Black, had to rush out and buy retail-priced blank T-shirt stock at Hobby Lobby, the chain store perhaps best known for contesting what it views a religious freedom infringement inherent in the birth control coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

“This here is an extension of my T-shirt ministry,” said Harris, who started his business on a Tulsa corner almost seven years ago with a T-shirt he designed that read “Kill Racism, Not Me.” Last weekend, he put his son and grandson to work screen-printing more of the newer designs.

“I have some ideas, some information I’m trying to spread,” Harris said. “Racism really is the core of the country’s problems. We can talk about that all we want, but in order to change that, it’s white people who are going to have to step up.”

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The nation’s divisions did not begin and end with Trump, said Schneider, who was a CNN political analyst for 20 years. This period of growing division began in the 1960s with Richard Nixon, a Republican, or, as some in the GOP would argue, with Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, Schneider said, gets his vote for sowing the seeds of America’s current divisions, because, like Trump, he mobilized and used them for political gain.

In the 1968 election, Nixon performed worst in Mississippi, where he claimed 13.5 percent of the vote. After adopting the “Southern strategy” — telling white Americans angry about social and legislative changes designed to advance equality that they, the majority, were being unfairly overruled and left in particular danger of rising crime — Nixon added a new group to the Republican Party’s ranks, Schneider said.

A more overt spokesman for white supremacy, George Wallace, cut into Nixon’s white voter gains that year. But white Southerners and those in other states gripped by what Schneider called “racial resentment” moved in droves to the Republican Party over the next 50 years. Beginning with the 1968 election, Democrats have failed to win a majority of the white vote in every presidential contest. By the 1972 election, Nixon had performed best in Mississippi, winning 78 percent of the popular vote.

“Nixon folded the racial backlash into the Republican Party,” said Schneider, whose research focuses on public opinion and elections. “Since then, we’ve had presidents who were divisive. Clinton was divisive. Obama was divisive. The second Bush was divisive. But Trump is unique, because he decided to make those divisions a source of his strength, to deliberately and overtly exploit those divisions for his own gain.”

To Dolly Campbell, Trump’s visit to Tulsa represented a kind of real-world civics exercise.

Campbell, who was not wearing a mask, pointed to her three unmasked children seated in camp chairs underneath a beach umbrella braced against a downtown Tulsa fence. The family arrived Friday from their home in Oklahoma City.

“I brought my children precisely because I want them to see this rally, see the protesters and see that in this country, everybody has a right to their opinion,” she said.

Moments before, Campbell had engaged in a brief shouting match with a Black woman who was stopped at a nearby traffic light. The woman — also without a face covering — pushed her upper body through the passenger window of a sports coupe and yelled curses about the president and his supporters and disregard for Black life.

A supporter waves a flag before a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, June 20, 2020.Charlie Riedel / AP

Campbell, who is white, made sure to deposit her children in the safety of a nearby hotel at night. But she and new friends met on the sidewalk to camp there overnight to hold their places in line to get into the rally. She said she views Trump as the only politician who understands and speaks for the Everyman, a president whose policies have made economic life better for every group of Americans. Trump, Campbell said, is a man who cares very much about those who are not powerful or rich.

“Let me put on my tinfoil hat,” Campbell joked, “but this country is breaking my heart. This country is so divided, and I think there are a lot of powerful people who make sure we stay that way, that people don’t support Trump because if we were more united we could accomplish almost anything.”

A few blocks from Campbell and just feet from the Detroit sisters’ mobile store, Crystal Hines and Charles Lunn, who are Black and also from Oklahoma City, decided to display their Black Lives Matter signs.

As Hines, Lunn and their two children, all wearing masks, made their way from their car to a space near BOK Center filled with Trump protesters, fans and vendors, two or three people hissed unfriendly warnings that they should stay away.

They had to show up to voice their opinions, Lunn said. They would bear witness to another dangerous event in Tulsa. Besides, the warnings about danger near the rally discounted the peril Black Americans face daily, he said.

“There’s the possible danger out here and the constant danger of living in the United States. I’ve got to worry about them,” Lunn said, pointing to his children, including his 20-year-old son, “getting stopped by police and what’s going to happen in the next four years. And it’s hard to reconcile and resign yourself to dangers every day.”

Violence at Trump rallies in 2016 and the number of Trump supporters brandishing guns near BOK Center on Saturday prompted the family’s one concession to immediate safety.

They headed out of Tulsa before dark.

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Trump Tulsa

Trump in Tulsa: City faces up to violent past ahead of rally – BBC News

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Media captionAn estimated 300 black people were killed during the violence

President Donald Trump is holding his first political rally since the start of the pandemic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend. His choice of location and the date have raised tensions in a city struggling to come to terms with its history of violent racism.

On 1 June 1921, a white mob ransacked the prosperous black neighbourhood of Greenwood, killing an estimated 300 people and burning 35 blocks of homes and businesses to the ground.

The bodies of the victims were buried in mass graves and, for decades, the memory of those fearful first few days in June were buried with them.

“Following the massacre, both blacks and whites swept this under the rug,” says Mechelle Brown, programme co-ordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center, which preserves the history of the neighbourhood.

“They had to focus on surviving. They said that to talk about it meant to relive it, and it was too painful to relive.”

The killing started after a young black man was accused of assaulting a young white girl in a downtown office elevator.

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Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center

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Greenwood was once known as Black Wall Street

The man, Dick Rowland, was arrested and there were fears he would be lynched. A group of African Americans went to the jail to protect him and were confronted by a larger group of white men. Shots were fired and the ensuing violence lasted for several days.

Thousands of white men, some of them deputised by the police, descended on Greenwood. Ten thousand people were forced from their homes. Others were murdered. Eyewitnesses said planes circled overhead dropping bombs of turpentine or coal oil while buildings were torched from the ground.

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Media caption‘A celebration of life. A celebration of freedom’: What you need to know about Juneteenth

It remains the deadliest single act of racial violence in American history.

Nobody was ever charged in the looting and destruction and city officials who stood by – or took part – were never held accountable for failing to protect their black residents.

But as the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre approaches, the city has begun to reckon with its past.

A commission has been set up to locate the graves and identify the victims – although a test excavation at one of the sites has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Emphasis has been placed on education with plans to teach the history of Greenwood in all Oklahoma state schools. And the neighbourhood is being promoted as a cultural and tourism destination.

Oklahoma’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt has invited Mr Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence to tour Greenwood ahead of Saturday’s rally – a move that has infuriated many residents.

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NAACP/Library of Congress via Reuters

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Thirty five blocks of Greenwood was burned during the massacre

The president has been widely accused of inflammatory rhetoric and of fuelling racial divisions during protests after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month. He has called for a law and order crackdown that critics say hasn’t addressed the concerns of peaceful protesters.

Some Tulsa residents say the president’s visit to Greenwood would be disrespectful and increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus within a vulnerable community. Statistics show that the death toll among African Americans is disproportionately higher than among white people.

“We are very concerned about all these people coming into our state as well as being escorted into our community to visit the Greenwood Cultural Center. That’s like bringing them right onto our house,” says TheRese Adunis, whose grandparents survived the Tulsa Race Massacre and whose father was born a few months later.

“Because we’re coming up on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, Greenwood is a hot tourist stop right now. Our city and our state want to promote it but it’s like, you want to make money and you want to be known for our misery but you don’t care about our lives,” she says.

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AFP via Getty Images

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The Tulsa rally will be the president’s first since the pandemic lockdown began

She’s also angry that despite repeated promises no reparations have ever been paid to the survivors of the massacre and little has been done to reduce social and economic disparities within the city.

Before the massacre, Greenwood was known as Black Wall Street, the richest African-American neighbourhood in America, with some 300 black-owned businesses.

It was a centre for jazz and blues that profoundly influenced the music legend Count Basie. Apart from a handful of historic markers, there is little evidence of that prosperity today. The north side of Tulsa, with its population of 65,000 African Americans, remains separated by railway tracks from the predominantly white and richer south side of the city.

“They want to take credit for talking about it instead of taking ownership and fixing it,” says Damario Solomon Simmons, a lawyer and activist in Tulsa who has represented some of the survivors.

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Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center

Image caption

Greenwood had become a vibrant black community

He’ll be taking part in a rally with the Rev Al Sharpton on June 19th, a date also known as Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the end of slavery in the US.

President Trump had planned to hold his campaign rally on Juneteenth but postponed it by a day following local protests.

“It’s an opportunity to leverage the history of Greenwood and the massacre for his own benefit,” says Mr Solomon Simmons. “That’s what we’re seeing throughout the city – powerful people who are utilising the history to push their agenda and give cover to their gentrification efforts.”

After the 1921 massacre, Greenwood residents rebuilt their community without aid or money from the state. For a while it flourished, but never fully recovered and eventually declined.

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Corbis via Getty Images

Image caption

A band marches on Martin Luther King Day in 2016 in Greenwood

Mr Solomon Simmons says the death of George Floyd has sparked a new awareness of the ongoing inequalities and injustices facing African Americans.

“We who are advocating for legislation, we have to redouble our efforts. The time is now. I can’t imagine a better time with the whole world watching,” he says.

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Trump's Tulsa

Trump’s Tulsa rally and Biden’s social distancing show differences in campaigning amid a pandemic – CNN

(CNN)The dramatic differences in how President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are returning to the campaign trail — Trump with a mega-rally, Biden with small, socially distanced groups — is showcasing the gulf between their approaches to governance.

Trump’s campaign is moving forward with plans for Saturday night’s event in Tulsa despite complaints from local officials and dire warnings from public health experts about the dangers of packing 20,000 people into cramped indoor quarters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Biden, his presumptive Democratic opponent, has made a much more methodical return to the trail — wearing masks while near others and practicing social distancing as he follows the guidance of public health officials and a team of doctors and experts his campaign has assembled, while forgoing in-person events that are open to the public.
Their approaches are offering a real-time window into their vastly different views of science, which Trump has repeatedly questioned and Biden has embraced, and the role of the presidency, with Biden seeking to model the behavior recommended by public health officials and Trump focused on sending the message that the United States is emerging from the pandemic — even as 21 states see an increase in coronavirus cases.
Trump “refuses to wear a mask, failing one of the most basic tests of leadership,” Biden said in a speech at a recreational center outside Philadelphia on Wednesday, attended by a limited crowd of about 20 invited guests and reporters.
“He takes no responsibility. He exercises no leadership. Now we’re just flat surrendering the fight. Instead of leading the charge to beat the virus, he’s just basically waved the white flag … so he can get back to his campaign rallies that will put people at risk,” Biden said.
“Donald Trump thinks if he puts his head in the sand, the American people will, too,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
For Biden, the contrast appears to be paying off: A CNN poll released last week found him with a 14-percentage-point advantage over Trump nationally among registered voters, and several other recent polls have shown him with similar leads.

‘That is the gold standard and his stock and trade’

Trump’s Tulsa rally has come together in a haphazard manner. It was initially planned for Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates slaves’ emancipation in the United States, but amid an outcry and protests over racial injustice across the nation, Trump’s campaign postponed it by one day.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also announced plans to visit other states in the coming weeks, which would make the Tulsa event the first in a series of rallies with less than five months remaining before the 2020 general election.
The campaign moves come as Pence, in a call with governors and in a misleading Wall Street Journal opinion piece, this week portrayed a nation “winning the fight against the invisible enemy” and said that concerns of a second wave of coronavirus are “overblown.”
For its part, Trump’s campaign has bragged that more than 1 million people have signed up for tickets to the Saturday night rally in Tulsa’s BOK Center, and the campaign is exploring overflow venues to add.
The rally — which goes against the guidance of Trump’s own administration — has provoked a public outcry, including from local officials.
David Bart, the Tulsa City-County Health Department director, pleaded with Trump to postpone the event. And Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a Facebook post Tuesday that he has concerns about the rally.
“I don’t like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, has warned that large-scale events are risky at this stage in the pandemic and urged those who attend to wear masks.
Trump’s campaign has said it will perform temperature checks and have hand sanitizer and masks on hand — though wearing them would be optional, and Trump himself has not worn masks at public events.
“We always tell people, here’s the guidance, feel comfortable, don’t feel comfortable. We also know that people don’t want to be locked down forever,” Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday.
She cast criticism of Trump’s return to holding rallies as motivated not by public health concerns, but by “those who will never want to do that again because obviously that is the gold standard and his stock and trade for him.”

‘He can’t ignore it away in June’

Biden’s style was on display Wednesday outside Philadelphia, where he held a roundtable with four local business owners. They sat spaced apart on a patio outside a restaurant, and didn’t shake hands or pose close together for pictures.
At the event, he faulted Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the problems is that, in my view is, nobody’s taking responsibility here. The President says, ‘It’s not my responsibility. It’s not my fault,'” Biden said.
In his speech later, he said Trump had “lost interest” in the pandemic and was declaring victory too early.
“Just like he couldn’t wish COVID-19 away in March, just like he couldn’t tweet it away in April, he can’t ignore it away in June,” Biden said.
Biden — who spent more than two months at home in Delaware after effectively sealing the Democratic presidential nomination with big wins in South Carolina, on Super Tuesday and in the March 10 Michigan primary — has this month begun a cautious return to campaigning, starting with a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony.
He has sought to play a healer-in-chief role amid the triple crises of the pandemic, its dire economic costs and the protests across the nation against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Biden’s first flight in nearly three months came last week, with a trip to meet with Floyd’s family in a Houston restaurant. Photos from the meeting showed attendees wearing masks.
He is increasingly holding roundtable-style events, including one Wednesday in Philadelphia. Before those events, Biden’s campaign has screened attendees to make sure none have come in contact with people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The campaign asks attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing, and has sometimes taken their temperatures upon arrival.
Those events — like the targeted roundtables Biden’s campaign has live-streamed on a near-daily basis for months — are invitation-only. He has not yet held events that are open to the public.
Biden has sat for in-person and virtual interviews, and his events and fundraisers are open to the press, usually with a small group of “pool” reporters covering them and then distributing detailed notes to other journalists. But his approach has not allowed for the sort of daily give-and-take with reporters that takes place in and around the White House.
His campaign has appointed a public health advisory committee, saying it will follow the advice of those doctors and experts on how to operate. Biden aides would not say whether larger public events are in the works.
Meanwhile, virtual events have worked well for Biden. His campaign raised $6 million in one night through a joint virtual fundraiser with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and $3.5 million in a similar event with California Sen. Kamala Harris. A virtual fundraiser is planned for later this month with former President Barack Obama. And his polling lead has increased in recent weeks.
Trump’s campaign blasted Biden on Tuesday for the slow return to in-person campaigning, claiming his approach is about avoiding questions, rather than following public health guidance.
“This is obviously a tactic to help him avoid errors and embarrassing, lost trains of thought, while also conveniently preventing the press corps from asking him any questions in person,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
“At what point will Biden subject himself to the scrutiny American voters deserve when considering the next President of the United States?” Murtaugh said.
On Wednesday, Murtaugh pointed out on Twitter that it has been 76 days since Biden held a news conference.
Trump has also mocked Biden for wearing a mask in public — something the President has refused to do.
Biden, meanwhile, delivered a scathing speech lambasting Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It was carried live across cable news networks.
He pointed out that, with its Tulsa rally, Trump’s campaign is poised to violate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and is asking attendees to sign waivers releasing the campaign from responsibility if they become ill.
“Donald Trump’s failure to fight the coronavirus with the same energy and focus that he used to troll his enemies on Twitter has cost us lives and it’s putting hope for an economic recovery at risk,” Biden said.

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Police Tulsa

Tulsa police slammed after video shows handcuffing of 2 black teens for jaywalking – NBC News

Tulsa police released video footage this week of two black teens getting handcuffed, and one of them taken into custody, for jaywalking, sparking criticism of the incident from the city’s mayor and the head of a coalition of black officers.

The release of the video came after community criticism of the June 4 incident, which police said is under investigation.

The footage shows two black teens walking down the middle of an empty street when at least two police officers confront them.

The officers approach the boys, whose names were not released to the public, and begin to handcuff one of them, the footage shows. An officer appears to tackle the boy and aggressively pin him down with his knees, as the other boy, who says the two are cousins, questions the tactic.

“Why are you putting your hands on him?” the second boy asks the officers, saying he and the other teen have nothing on them and that they were just walking.

“You were jaywalking,” one of the officers says.

The officers also handcuff the second teen.

As the footage continues, the first boy handcuffed calls the officers racist, and says, “You want to see me in jail or dead.” He also references George Floyd at one point, saying he can’t breathe himself and that the officers are choking him, yelling, “Call my mama.”

The officers try to put the first teen into a police car, and he resists. At one point an officer tells the boy, “Don’t head-butt me again.”

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A bystander, who is black, sees the arrest and asks the officers what’s happening, saying the two were just walking and asks the officer if his body camera is on, the footage shows.

One of the officers tells the man he doesn’t know the full story and threatens to arrest him as well.

“You’re standing in the middle of the street, you want to go with them?” the officer says.

Eventually, the officers put the first teenager into a squad car, and let the other boy go, telling him to stop jaywalking.

It is unclear if either of the two teens faces charges.

Police said they released the footage to be transparent.

“Over the weekend we received a few messages through our social media page about an arrest that was made involving 2 juveniles this last week,” the department said in a press release, according to Tulsa World. “We were able to find the arrest illustrated in the citizen’s video and locate the officer’s videos from their body cameras.

Tulsa police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

NBC Tulsa affiliate KJRH reported that the department is not providing further comment at this time.

Tulsa’s mayor, G.T. Bynum, weighed in on the incident on Wednesday, saying on Facebook, “I want every kid in Tulsa to feel safe to walk down the street in their neighborhood.”

He continued, “I know the officers in that unit focus on removal of illegal guns from the streets, but the goal of that work should be that families feel safe in their neighborhood. This instance accomplished the opposite.”

The mayor said he is talking to the police about the incident and their tactics.

“We can do better,” he wrote.

The president of the Tulsa Black Officers Coalition, police Lt. Marcus Harper, said at a news conference of the incident, “Here’s the reality of it: That is the culture of policing.”

Harper said the handcuffing and arrest occurred in his neighborhood.

“The issue is, ‘Are you policing other communities the exact same way?'”

The answer is no, he said, “It is not happening in other parts of town.”

Image: Ben KesslenBen Kesslen

Ben Kesslen is a reporter for NBC News. 

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