As Tulsa police and business owners prepared for unrest Monday night near Woodland Hills Mall by erecting barricades and closing businesses, the city did not put a curfew in place prior to protests that left some businesses damaged and ended with police firing tear gas.
Protesters squared off Monday night against police in riot gear and the Oklahoma National Guard in Tulsa near Woodland Hills Mall, as civil unrest over the death of a black Minnesota man at the hands of police and racial inequality in the criminal justice system continued.
Some protestors suffered minor injuries during the clash with authorities, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, and some businesses were damaged by civilians near the site of the unrest.
Though Oklahoma City implemented a curfew on Monday night, Tulsa did not do so. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office told The Frontier on Tuesday that the decision of whether or not to implement a curfew would be left up to Police Chief Wendell Franklin. However a spokesman for the Tulsa Police Department said the decision would have to come from the mayor’s office.
On Tuesday morning, Bynum wrote on Facebook that the leaders of the protests over the weekend were not responsible for Monday night’s events.
“I’ve known most of the organizers of this past weekend’s protests for years. We don’t always agree, but they have always focused on being constructive – not destructive,” Bynum wrote. “It is important for all Tulsans to know that those leaders, the people I met with for hours yesterday to have a civil exchange of ideas, do not have anything to do with the criminals who are vandalizing property in our city.
“I would ask that my fellow Tulsans do not confuse criminals with our city’s civil rights leaders. The criminals may show up to the civil rights events, but they do not want the same things.”
Nationwide, protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, one of whom kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, also continued. On Monday evening President Donald Trump briefly addressed the nation from the White House, threatening to send military units into states if they were unable to control the unrest.
On Monday, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that he was sending Oklahoma National Guard and Oklahoma Highway Patrol units to Tulsa and Oklahoma City to assist local authorities.
“At the request of local communities, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the National Guard have been authorized to provide support as needed,” a statement by Stitt on Monday read. “These hardworking Oklahomans are our friends and neighbors who step up in times of need, including to protect peaceful demonstrators. Violence and damage to property goes against the Oklahoma Standard and is a distraction designed to keep us from uniting together to change for the better.”
Protests in Tulsa over the weekend started out in the Greenwood District, but eventually moved to block traffic on a nearby highway. Those protests were more organized than Monday night’s gathering, which began after 5 p.m. near the intersection of East 71st Street and Memorial Avenue. By that time, entrances to the mall parking lot had already been blocked with large cargo containers placed by authorities. The mall and stores in the area had closed down around 3 p.m. that day, as rumors that looting would occur at the mall spread across social media.
Activists who organized protests Saturday and Sunday have said they were not associated with Monday night’s gathering.
Much of those in the crowd during Monday night’s protest were younger than the protests over the weekend, and the crowd continued to swell until around 8:30 p.m., when police declared it an unlawful assembly and ordered the area be cleared before periodically shutting the streets down in the area.
Officers deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets toward the crowd to disperse the protesters, some of whom had thrown objects at officers, but many lingered in the area. Some in the crowd began to break glass at some storefronts in the area, but most were quickly rebuffed from entering the stores by other civilians, many of whom stood guard outside the businesses after the vandalism occurred.
By midnight, the crowd had moved east on 71st Street and more businesses in the area suffered broken windows. At that point, the National Guard, escorted by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, arrived in Humvees and buses and began staging in a nearby parking lot.
Police asked the media in the area to kill their live streams of the unrest, and most complied.
With the civilian crowd lining the north side of 71st Street facing the National Guard, equipped with riot shields and truncheons, a police line formed on the south side of the street, where vandals had hit some businesses earlier. As members of the National Guard were lining up, a small smoke bomb was thrown by someone in the crowd, and within minutes, police and protesters began exchanging volleys, with police firing tear gas into the crowd, pushing it back a few dozen yards, and slightly injuring a handful of people in the process.
During a lull in the action, Dominic “Duke” Durant, who was involved in organizing the peaceful protests in Tulsa during the weekend, told the crowd that Bynum had agreed to protestors’ four demands — investment in community mental health training for law enforcement, settlement of lawsuits brought by families of those killed by police, creation of a police oversight committee and for LivePD in Tulsa to be ended.
“Mayor Bynum has agreed to these. So we won,” said Durant, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Durant then encouraged the crowd to disperse and remain peaceful.
“This right here is unorganized,” Durant said. “The problem with being unorganized is a lot of y’all … if a lot of it changes to something that’s physical, you can’t arm yourselves. You will lose this fight every time.”
However, Durant was soon drowned out by the crowd when it began chanting. Then the police line began advancing, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and hitting several people. Some in the crowd tossed the tear gas canisters back at police.
Around 1 a.m., with police and National Guard lines to the north and east, a few people in the crowd attempted to light fireworks, causing officers to open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. Using the corner of a building for cover, the civilians lit the fireworks and shot them at the line of guardsmen, prompting a fusillade of tear gas canisters and less lethal projectiles from officers in both lines.
The area was immediately inundated with tear gas, sending most of the crowd fleeing on foot in disarray. Those with vehicles immediately began tearing out of the parking lot, though visibility was reduced severely by thick plumes of tear gas in the air.
The crowd mostly dispersed after that, said Tulsa Police Department spokesman Danny Bean.
Bean said four arrests were made Monday night during the protest.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Landon Johnson, 19, and Terrell Mayfield Jr., 18, were arrested and booked into the Tulsa County Jail on complaints of obstruction/interfering with a police officer after the two were allegedly throwing rocks, Bean said. Both men had bonded out on a $500 bond Tuesday morning.
Keith Warren, 27, was arrested on complaints of obstruction and public intoxication around 11:30 p.m., but only booked into jail on a public intoxication complaint. He bonded out on Tuesday morning.
Richard Anthony Berumen, 18, was arrested around 1 a.m. after allegedly trying to break a window in a nearby business. He was booked into the Tulsa County Jail on complaints of inciting a riot, assault with a dangerous weapon, obstructing/interfering with a police officer and warrants for domestic violence. He remained in the Tulsa County Jail on Tuesday afternoon on a bond of $35,000.