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Tulsa Race Massacre graves search: Some want Inner Dispersal Loop included among possible sites

One day in, and dissatisfaction is surfacing about the search for unknown burial sites from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre.

Several members of the project’s public oversight committee held an impromptu news conference at Oaklawn Cemetery on Monday afternoon to ask why the Oklahoma Archeology Survey has not been asked to look under the Inner Dispersal Loop for the remains of people killed in the racial violence of May 31-June 1, 1921.

The OAS team began subsurface scans Monday of three areas inside Oaklawn identified by historians and researchers as among the most likely spots to look. Plans also call for scanning in and around Newblock Park, 1414 W. Charles Page Avenue, and possibly in and around Rolling Oaks Cemetery in south Tulsa.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said the current schedule “is a start” and promised to “throw everything at (the search), technologically.”

A few minutes earlier, members of the oversight committee, including Pastor Robert Turner, state Rep. Regina Goodwin and Chief Egunwale Amusan said they were concerned that the team was not asked to look under the IDL.

“We have heard from too many witnesses, and there is too much oral history” to ignore, said Goodwin, who would also like an examination of Crown Hill Cemetery, 4301 E. 66th St. North.

Records show that a sliver of Oaklawn — about a tenth of an acre — was sold to the state for the Inner Dispersal Loop, which was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the highway sits atop an old railroad right-of-way, and Goodwin and the others said they’ve been told bodies were brought to Oaklawn on rail cars and “rolled” into a trench on the west edge of the cemetery.

The group said they appreciate the efforts of the OAS team but questioned why the site being examined Monday was chosen.

Located inside the present western boundary of the cemetery, the area is noticeably void of grave markers in an otherwise nearly full cemetery. Officials said people who had previously worked in the cemetery believed black victims of the massacre were buried there.

Funeral home records and news reports from the time indicate that at least 18 of the bodies were buried in Oaklawn, but their locations are not known. A news story said 13 bodies were buried “separately and in plain caskets,” but some question whether that was actually the case.

Two markers for known dead are nearby, but only one appears to mark an actual grave, officials said.

One of those watching Monday’s proceedings, Eugene Martin of Tulsa, said family lore holds that his great uncle Bob Perryman was killed in the massacre and buried at Oaklawn.

“My family always talked about him being in here,” said Martin.

“I appreciate the effort to get to the truth,” he said. “If they’re successful in this cemetery, it will verify the family story. We were told he was put on a truck and dumped in a mass grave at Oaklawn.”

The scanning crew intends to survey an area identified in 1999 as a potential site, as well as a location near the cemetery entrance.

The scientists are using three types of scanning equipment in their search. OAS senior researcher Scott Hammerstedt, who is supervising the work, said it will likely be several weeks after the scans are completed before a thorough analysis of the data can be finished.

“Even if I think we have something, I probably won’t come right out and say it until I’m certain,” Hammerstedt said.

Bynum, who initiated the search, urged patience.

“We have to be very careful to take this one step at a time,” he said. “Some people say we’re opening a wound, but the wound has always been there.


Washington
AP
Trump defends decision to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday cast his decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from “endless war” in the Middle East, even as Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally and undermining American credibility.

Trump declared that U.S. troops would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on the Kurds, who have fought alongside Americans for years, but he then threatened to destroy the Turks’ economy if they went too far.

Even Trump’s staunchest Republican congressional allies expressed outrage at the prospect of abandoning Syrian Kurds who had fought the Islamic State group with American arms and advice. It was the latest example of Trump’s approach to foreign policy that critics condemn as impulsive, that he sometimes reverses and that frequently is untethered to the advice of his national security aides.

“A catastrophic mistake,” said Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican leader. “Shot in the arm to the bad guys,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Trump said he understood criticism from fellow GOP leaders but disagreed. He said he could also name supporters, but he didn’t.

Pentagon and State Department officials held out the possibility of persuading Turkey to abandon its expected invasion. U.S. officials said they had seen no indication that Turkey had begun a military operation by late Monday.

Trump, in late afternoon remarks to reporters, appeared largely unconcerned at the prospect of Turkish forces attacking the Kurds, who include a faction he described as “natural enemies” of the Turks.

“But I have told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane, … they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy,” Trump said.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to protect the Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.

Graham said Turkey’s NATO membership should be suspended if it attacks into northeastern Turkey, potentially annihilating Kurdish fighters who acted as a U.S. proxy army in a five-year fight to eliminate the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. Graham, who had talked Trump out of a withdrawal from Syria last December, said letting Turkey invade would be a mistake of historic proportion and would “lead to ISIS reemergence .”

This all comes at a pivotal moment of Trump’s presidency. House Democrats are marching forward with their impeachment inquiry into whether he compromised national security or abused his office by seeking negative information on former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, from Ukraine and other foreign countries.

As he faces the impeachment inquiry, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.

“I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home and bring them home as rapidly as possible,” he said.

The strong pushback on Capitol Hill prompted Trump to recast as well as restate his decision, but with renewed bombast and self-flattery.

He promised to destroy the Turkish economy “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.”

Sunday night the White House had said the U.S. would get its troops out of the way of the Turkish forces. That announcement came after Trump spoke by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

One official described that White House announcement as a botched effort that appeared aimed at making Trump look bold for ending a war. The official said attempts by the Pentagon and State Department to make the statement stronger in its opposition to Turkey’s military action were unsuccessful.

That official, like others interviewed, was not authorized to speak on the record and was granted anonymity to comment.

The official added that Erdogan appeared to be reconsidering his earlier resolve because he was relatively quiet Monday. But damage done to relations with the Kurds could be irreparable.

An official familiar with the Erdogan call said the Turkish president was “ranting” at Trump, saying the safe zone was not working and that Turkey couldn’t trust the U.S. military to do what was needed. And in reaction, Trump said the U.S. wanted no part of an invasion and would withdraw troops. The announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into U.S. relations with European allies. A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said France wasn’t informed ahead of time. A Foreign Ministry statement warned Turkey to avoid any action that would harm the international coalition against the Islamic State and noted the Kurds had been essential allies. It entirely omitted any mention of the United States. U.S. involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.

Trump defended his latest decision, acknowledging in tweets that “the Kurds fought with us” but adding that they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so.”

“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” he wrote.

In his later remarks, Trump asserted that American troops in Syria are not performing useful work. They are, he said, “not fighting.” They are “just there,” he said.

Among the first to move were about 30 U.S. troops from two outposts who would be in the immediate area of a Turkish invasion. It’s unclear whether others among the roughly 1,000 U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would be moved, but officials said there was no plan for any to leave Syria entirely. Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria would be a major boost to Russia’s position there.

He added that other allies in the region, including the Kurds, will “look at this withdrawal as U.S. unwillingness to stand up for its rights and maintain its alliances in the region.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., another strong Trump supporter, said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” that he had concerns.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said, adding that, “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”

Former Trump administration officials also expressed concern.

Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. “must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. ... Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.


State-and-regional
Critics of constitutional carry file lawsuit, seek to block implementation ahead of Nov. 1 effective date

OKLAHOMA CITY — Critics of a law going into effect Nov. 1 to allow people to carry a weapon without a permit or training filed a lawsuit Monday in Oklahoma County District Court.

The action comes after critics failed to get enough signatures to let voters decide to nullify or keep the law.

Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, is one of five of the plaintiffs. He called the law “dangerous.”

Lowe said the law violates the single-subject requirement of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The single-subject rule requires that every bill embrace only one subject.

The suit says the measure addresses far more than one subject, including self-defense, a campus weapons ban, undocumented immigrants, transportation, preemption, disclosure to law enforcement and immunity.

The suit seeks a declaration that the law, House Bill 2597, is unconstitutional. The measure is also known as “constitutional carry” and “permitless carry.”

Plaintiffs have asked the court to issue an order barring the law from taking effect.

“We are excited,” Lowe said. “We are looking forward to challenging this dangerous law.”

Lowe spearheaded the failed attempt to let voters decide the issue.

Gov. Kevin Stitt is named as the defendant.

House Bill 2597 was the first measure he signed after taking office in January.

“The Governor’s Office is reviewing the lawsuit,” said Baylee Lakey, his communications director. “It is the policy of the Governor’s Office to not comment on ongoing litigation.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is charged with defending the law, said the office is reviewing the filing.

“The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association sees this as another Hail Mary attempt to stop constitutional carry,” said Don Spencer, the association’s president. “We do not feel this breaks the single-subject rule and look forward to the Attorney General’s Office defending it.”

Lowe said if the lawsuit fails, critics could seek to get enough signatures again to get the measure before voters.

“Everything is on the table,” Lowe said. “Hopefully we are successful. We believe we have a great case.”


Government-and-politics
Oklahoma prisons to hold transition fairs for hundreds of inmates who could have sentences commuted starting Nov. 1

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections plans to start holding transition fairs this week to help provide resources for inmates who could soon be released from prison due to a criminal justice reform measure that takes effect next month.

The fairs are designed to help those inmates and others who are nearing release with a variety of re-entry needs, including transitional housing, employment, health care, mental health care, mentoring and transportation.

Hundreds of inmates will soon be affected by House Bill 1269, which Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law earlier this year. The legislation makes the provisions of State Question 780 retroactive.

Read the full story online at Oklahoman.com. (Some stories require a subscription.)

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dslipke@oklahoman.com