Stitt calls National Guard to OKC and Tulsa following protests

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Oklahoma City police make arrests during a protest on May 30, 2020. NATHAN POPPE/The Curbside Chronicle

Gov. Kevin Stitt has called the Oklahoma National Guard to state active duty in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in response to multiple days of protests that have included clashes with local police. 

Around 120 soldiers in each city have been mobilized to support local law enforcement if needed, according to Lt. Col. Geoff Legler. 

“We had our first indication that we were going to be called yesterday and then the planning has been ongoing since about noon (Sunday),” Legler said. 

In a statement released Monday evening, Stitt said “at the request of local communities, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the National Guard have been authorized to provide support as needed. these hardworking Oklahomans are our friends and neighbors who step up in times of need, including to protect peaceful demonstrators.”

On Monday, President Donald Trump told governors they needed to use more force in response to protests that have swept across the nation, according to a recording of the call. 

Stitt participated in the Monday morning phone call with Trump, according to his office, but declined to comment directly on the president’s message. 

Trump criticized many states, including New York and Georgia, and told governors to “fight back” against protestors who include those on the “radical left.”

“Most of you are weak,” Trump said. 

Trump also said governors with smaller cities also need to be prepared for “radicals” who meet resistance in larger cities and search for smaller communities. 

Stitt’s order came a day after a mostly peaceful protest in Oklahoma City ended with some throwing objects at officers and police responding with tear gas. 

The Oklahoma County sheriffs department stands guard at the Oklahoma County jail. ZACH LUCERO/For The Frontier

Protests have swept across the country in recent days in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which was recorded on video. One Minneapolis officer has been charged with murder. 

On Sunday, thousands gathered at the state Capitol, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Safety. Stitt’s office said the governor empowered Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating to make decisions about how to respond. 

State officers were not immediately visible on the Capitol grounds during the demonstration, although some were on the roofs of nearby government buildings. 

Many in the crowd later marched to the Oklahoma City police headquarters where protests were peaceful until nightfall when police responded to some thrown objects by firing tear gas for the second evening in a row.

Police later advanced through downtown streets to move back groups of young protestors who had broken the windows of some businesses.  

Tulsa police also deployed tear gas and pepper balls Sunday evening. 

On Sunday, Stitt issued a statement vowing to protect the right of Oklahomans to peacefully demonstrate, while also supporting local law enforcement “who are respectfully working to stop criminal activity.” 

In his Monday statement, Stitt said Sunday’s demonstrations began as “powerful moments of Oklahomans coming together to make their voices heard and express their First Amendment rights safely.” 

But Stitt said “things started to change after the organized demonstration ended.”

Legler said if the National Guard joins local police it will only be in a supporting role. 

“The National Guard is never the lead agency in anything we do, including civil unrest operations,” Legler said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday evening with statements from Gov. Stitt. 

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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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