Legacy of racism spotlighted as protests continued in Oklahoma

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Thousands filled the state Capitol grounds Sunday to protest police brutality. ZACH LUCERO/For The Frontier

Thousands of Oklahomans marched Sunday in the state’s two largest cities, decrying police brutality with demonstrations that shutdown a freeway in Tulsa and filled the state Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City. 

“Enough is enough,” said Alva Boyd, an Oklahoma City resident who said the current unrest in America reminds her of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 

The killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody last week sparked nationwide protests that have turned violent in some cities. 

Floyd’s name was evoked but the demonstrations in Oklahoma were also rooted in history. 

Sunday was the 99-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre when a mob of white residents burned down the Greenwood District, known then as Black Wall Street, where an affluent black community was based. 

Tulsa Organizer Tykebrean Natrail Cheshier said she wanted people to come together to mourn the massacre. 

“And then we want to educate them on why black lives do matter,” she said.

Sunday’s demonstration in Tulsa began in the Greenwood District where speakers addressed the anniversary and more recent controversial police killings, such as Terence Crutcher and Joshua Barre. 

“If all I can do to help my children have a better future is to be out here and be in this march, peacefully, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” said Vonnie Kelley, a mother of three daughters who came to join the protest from Coweta. 

In Oklahoma City, the rally began in the city’s predominantly black community where councilwoman JoBeth Hamon spoke about the city’s history of urban renewal and construction of the highway system that displaced many black families and left hundreds of empty lots.  

“There is so much land that is owned by your city … that is governed by a board of predominantly white people,” Hamon said. “Tell your mayor who you want to see governing the land that is yours.”

Sheri Dickerson with Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City said Sunday’s rally was a message to city leaders to bring systemic change to local policing practices. 

“Today if you look at these crowds you will find out that we love our community and we are going to stand and continue to demand justice and keep the pressure on until we see the change that needs to be here,” Dickerson said. 

Protests in Oklahoma City Sunday began at the intersection of 36th Street and Kelley. ZACH LUCERO/For The Frontier

On Saturday, crowds in Oklahoma City were met with tear gas and police lined up with shields. But Sunday’s demonstration was largely absent of any police presence, even as protestors filled the steps of the state Capitol. 

When protestors arrived at the police station they were met with fewer officers, some of whom had conversations and shook hands with those demonstrating. 

By nightfall police were lined up again with shields and threats of tear gas as some arrests were made.

“We don’t hate cops, or at least not all of us do,” said Malika Williams. “I just want them to know that we feel mistreated and that our pain is ignored.”

In Tulsa, police blocked off some areas to allow protestors to march through the streets of downtown. 

At one point a crowd walked along Interstate 244, blocking eastbound traffic. 

Protestors move through downtown Tulsa on May 31, 2020. KASSIE McCLUNG/The Frontier

Panic broke out when a truck pulling a horse trailer drove through a group of protestors, injuring several people. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has made contact with the driver and is investigating the incident, a spokeswoman told The Frontier. Two people were transported to the hospital with minor injuries. 

Later that evening, thousands marched to the Tulsa County, also known as David L. Moss, and walked south up Denver Avenue to Riverside Drive. They walked through neighborhoods and reached 36th and Peoria. As of publishing time Sunday evening, protestors were in a standoff with police, who ordered protestors to leave by 10:30 p.m. or they would start to make arrests. 

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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