Editor’s note: A photo caption has been changed to reflect the correct date the picture was taken.
Following a weekend that saw thousands of protestors rally in cities across the country about police brutality and racism, several local officials appeared on radio Monday morning and expressed frustration about some of what occurred in Tulsa.
Mayor GT Bynum, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado and Tulsa Police Department Major Travis Yates appeared on the Pat Campbell show on KFAQ 1170 on Monday morning. All three expressed some sympathy with local protestors, but they also shared some criticism of different tactics involved in the weekend rallies.
George Floyd, 46, died May 25 during an encounter with Minneapolis police. Floyd, suspected of attempting to use a fake $20 bill, can be seen in cell phone footage being pinned to the ground by four officers. Over the course of several minutes Floyd repeatedly told the officers he couldn’t breathe, and eventually he fell silent and lost consciousness. One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, had Floyd pinned to the ground with his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck.
Chauvin was eventually arrested and charged with third-degree murder, and protests were held in dozens of cities across the country as communities continue to grapple with police use of force, particularly on unarmed black men — something Tulsa has its own recent history of.
Regalado told Campbell that the protests, which were held in the downtown area as well as in Brookside and reached into some nearby neighborhoods, were “about a very serious issue that should be addressed nationally and locally.” But the second-term sheriff expressed frustration that the protests were not also focused on the deaths of Tony and Miracle Crook, two black toddlers who drowned last month.
“Quite frankly when you have two kids who died as a result of a mother who quite frankly was under the influence and these kids were left to fend for themselves … it’s outrageous,” Regalado said. “There’s a much deeper problem with regard to just that incident of those kids dying. So I absolutely agree, we’ve just kind of skated over that one.”
The bodies of the Crook children, aged 3 and 2, were recovered on Friday from local waterways after they’d been reported missing May 22. The mother, Donisha Willis, is currently in jail on two counts of child neglect and one count of assaulting a police officer.
“I think there was a blip on the radar in regards to those young children (who died) as a result of a mother who quite frankly didn’t care,” Regalado said.
Regalado said that Tulsa’s protests were largely peaceful and that the city was “fortunate” to have thus far avoided the more destructive protests seen in some other cities.
“Tulsa is unique in that its people I believe are more conscientious of not only their safety but the safety of law enforcement,” Regalado said. “We may have disagreements but by and large with a crowd that size and the very few incidents that did take place, we are very fortunate, more so than many of the larger cities in the country.”
Yates, during his 20-minute interview with Campbell, said he felt that the Floyd killing was “awful and horrible,” but also argued that the move Chauvin used to subdue Floyd, pinning him to the ground by his neck with his knee, was in policy for the Minneapolis Police Department, and said he felt body camera footage of the incident there would “answer a lot of questions.”
Though Chauvin was the only officer arrested for Floyd’s death, there were three other officers who assisted in the arrest — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane. All of the officers were fired by the department.
Yates, who at times during the interview downplayed the racial aspect of Floyd’s death and arrest, said “one officer was white, one officer was Hispanic, one officer was black and one officer was Asian, so that’s a fairly diverse group of racist officers here that everyone is screaming at.”
“And I think the racist part is the one thing nobody knows about, right,” Yates told Campbell. “There’s no evidence race played a factor.”
Yates pointed to the autopsy report over Floyd’s death that said Floyd did not die from asphyxiation or strangulation, but rather to the “combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”
Another autopsy, released Monday, listed Floyd’s death as a “homicide due to asphyxiation due to sustained pressure.”
Still, Yates agreed the move Chauvin used on Floyd was “not … appropriate.”
However, Yates added, “if someone is fighting us, there are no rules, we’re going to win that fight.”
“But if they weren’t fighting, and he wasn’t fighting, then no, that (neck hold) would not be appropriate,” he said.
Chauvin had 18 complaints during his time as a police officer, two of which resulted in discipline. Yates said the number of complaints Chauvin had “is no indication of actual wrongdoing” and that in Minneapolis “people are complaining on you for looking at them funny.”
“It’s probably not uncommon for an officer in any department depending on what part of the country you’re in, I would think more complaints are happening in Minneapolis because of the culture there and environment there of policing,” Yates said. “A complaint every other year or every year … that’s not really an indication of anything.”
Bynum expressed frustration at what he said was a “classic fabrication” that led some protestors to his house at the conclusion of Saturday’s rally.
Bynum told Campbell that Tiffany Crutcher and Robert Turner, two leaders of the city’s Black Lives Matter movement, told protestors that they had “been requesting a meeting” with him and that he would not return their calls.
“Which is complete fiction,” Bynum said, saying that he had previously given both Crutcher, the sister of Terence Crutcher, and Turner his cell phone number and “neither of them ever called me.”
Bynum told Campbell that he was doing yard work Saturday when he went inside to look at his phone and saw messages from TPD Chief Wendell Franklin and others telling him about the protest. Officers then arrived, Bynum said, and said “Mayor, the leaders of this protest directed everyone in this group that’s big enough to block I-44 in both directions to come to your house.”
“This is not an area that can safely facilitate a protest of that size,” Bynum said.
“I had to tell my wife and kids that we had to pack up and leave our own house, and that was a low point for me as an elected official, seeing my kids be frightened that they had to leave their own home,” Bynum said. He said he went to his office downtown and worked for the rest of the day Saturday, then spent Sunday at the police department command station as thousands of protestors moved throughout the city.
“I want my kids to love public service, and this is a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old and they’re getting to see that when you step up and want to make your community better that this is what happens, you get run out of your own house,” Bynum said. “Pretty disgraceful.”
Bynum later added that he thinks it is “valuable for a community for people to show up like they did at the rally (Sunday) to show black Tulsans that there are other people in this community who want it to be a great city for you.”
“But there’s a difference between that and what devolved into what happened on Brookside (Sunday) night,” he said.”
Regalado, Yates, and Bynum all talked about the desires of the protestors, many of which said they specifically wanted an end to Tulsa’s LivePD contract, settlements over different civil lawsuits regarding police brutality, and more mental health training for officers.
Interestingly, Bynum, who has supported LivePD and called it a good thing for Tulsa, told Campbell “you know where I stand” on the LivePD contract, calling it “counterproductive” to try to “hide what our police officers actually do out in the field in the types of situations they have to handle.”
But hours later Bynum announced he would end the LivePD contract, agreeing the contract would not be renewed, and it would be replaced by a similar show of a “non-commercial” format.
Bynum told Campbell that as mayor he could not step in to settle civil lawsuits that are working their way through federal courts, saying he doesn’t “have the ability to give money to people because I feel like their family has been thought a tragedy.”
Regalado said he felt that the “issues will continue” but said that he felt law enforcement and the community could resolve differences through compromise.
“Appeasement historically has never worked,” he told Campbell.
Yates issued a similar sentiment, saying that other than “buzzwords like ‘We want justice and equality,’” or requests to settle civil lawsuits, launch independent police monitors or end the LivePD contract, he hadn’t heard many “specifics.”
“If you want to see change, help us make that change, but you’ve got to tell us what that change is,” Yates said. “And if we got off LivePD, if we got a civilian review board, if civil cases got settled, all of a sudden are you pleased? Are you happy? Is that it?”
During his interview with Bynum, Campbell likened giving in to the protestors’ requests to “feeding the beast.”
“It’s never enough … they’re always going to want more,” Campbell said.
“That’s correct,” Bynum replied.
“And I can attest that is the strategy of this group because they have told me that in meetings that we’ve had in my office,” he said. “They’ve said, ‘mayor our job is not to thank you for what’s happening, our job is to push you’ … and they’ve said it with complete sincerity. They believe their role from a civil rights standpoint … is to keep pushing, to never be satisfied regardless of what we do as a city.”