Like an approaching cyclone, the bits and pieces of what is likely to be a memorable and perhaps momentous weekend swirled about Tulsa on Thursday.
At the center is President Donald Trump. Details remain fuzzy — not unusual for a presidential visit — but Trump’s 7 p.m. rally at the BOK Center on Saturday is expected to fill the 19,000-seat arena to overflowing despite the growing concern of public health professionals.
Rival events have also spun up in response to the rally.
Juneteenth, which because of COVID-19 was going to pass with little fanfare this year, is now a three-day event, beginning Friday and featuring civil rights leader Al Sharpton.
A Trump counterprotest is planned for Veterans Park on Saturday, and protesters are likely outside the BOK Center.
A band and a planeload of VIPs will be arriving with Trump, according to his campaign, and around 1 million registrations for seats to the rally were submitted online.
But how many people will actually show up, and where they will go, is unclear.
On Thursday it was confirmed that, contrary to previous reports, the Cox Business Convention Center will not be used for overflow.
It was unclear whether other overflow arrangements were being made. It’s also not clear when the BOK Center will open. The Trump campaign’s website and BOK management say the doors will open at 3 p.m., but an ad in Thursday’s Tulsa World says 10 a.m.
The 1 million figure being thrown about undoubtedly includes some, including people opposed to Trump, who registered without any intention of attending.
Health concerns may have some rethinking their plans to attend. Public health experts consider crowding 19,000 people into an arena very risky during a pandemic, and Trump supporters such as Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., are urging older people and those with underlying health conditions to stay home.
The campaign will be distributing face masks and hand sanitizer at the event but won’t require that the face masks be worn. The temperature of everyone entering will be taken, according to the campaign.
In advance of Saturday’s rally, Gov. Kevin Stitt was in Washington on Thursday for a televised discussion with Trump and two Oklahoma business owners — hotelier Pete Patel and restaurant owner Lori Burson.
Stitt told Trump that Oklahomans are excited for his upcoming visit, saying over a million people have requested tickets for the event.
Stitt said the rally will be “amazing.” “Oklahoma is ready for your visit,” Stitt said. “It is going to be safe. We are really, really excited.”
“One of the reasons we chose your state, Kevin, is you have done so well with the COVID,” Trump said. “You have handled it incredibly well.”
Stitt thanked Trump for his administration’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither mentioned that new cases in the state and in Tulsa County have skyrocketed in recent days.
Patel told Trump about how the hospitality industry has suffered due to the pandemic.
He said that for the first time in his career, he was forced to lay off employees, a “gut-wrenching experience.”
He said the payroll protection program was a lifeline for the industry.
He said that while hotel occupancy rates have picked up a bit, the industry still has a long way to go to recover.
“We need more states to reopen — consumers to feel safe to travel,” Patel said. “The industry will need additional resources to help pay our bills.”
Also Thursday, Tulsa police began preparing downtown for the rally and other events by installing some fencing, readying barriers and beginning street closings. This included closing the First and Second Street ramps on and off the Inner Dispersal Loop.
According to the Tulsa Police Department, an event perimeter was established in downtown Tulsa from Archer Street to Sixth Street and from Houston Avenue to Boulder Avenue.
A curfew for that area was put in place from 10 p.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Saturday and after the rally until 6 a.m. Sunday.
Vehicles left on the street within the event perimeter will be towed after 10 a.m. Friday, and even some vehicles parked in private lots or garages and visible from the street may also be “relocated,” the Police Department said.
Registration for the rally includes a waiver saying those who attend may not hold the campaign or the arena liable for COVID-19 infections.
Some have questioned the validity of the waiver, but three lawyers with expertise in the area say it would be difficult to sue successfully, regardless of the waiver.
That’s because the danger involved is so well-known — like riding a mechanical bull, as one put it.
The waiver simply verifies acknowledgment of that risk, the attorneys said.
An exception, they said, would be gross negligence — in this case, for instance, if the campaign knowingly permitted people infected with COVID-19 into the building.
Barbara Hoberock contributed to this story.
Trump supporters out Friday in downtown Tulsa for campaign rally
The Historic Greenwood Chamber of Commerce announced the start of a one-year, $10 million campaign to help restore the Greenwood District and make the area once lauded as “Black Wall Street” into an incubator for African American entrepreneurs.
The campaign funds will be used to help restore the historic buildings at the corner of Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue, in the Greenwood District, and provide ongoing resources to businesses in the district and the local community.
Other goals of the project include enhancing public spaces, improving mobility and walkability to and within the district, and sustaining economic growth by increasing the number of minority-owned businesses.
Also planned is a commemoration of the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre, May 31-June 1, 2021.
The announcement took place at press event held Thursday in the conference room at ONEOK field, which is located in the Greenwood District.
Earlier this year, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce received a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service that was to go toward renovating the 10 buildings that remain of the once-thriving “Black Wall Street.”
A GoFundMe page has been established, with the goal of raising $1 million toward the campaign’s total. To view the page: gofundme.com/f/RestoreBlackWallStreet.
Horace Sheffield, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations and national chairman of the campaign, said the goal is “to make sure that this place becomes a national destination.”
In the early 20th century, Tulsa’s Greenwood District had become one of the most prosperous and successful African American communities in the country, with more than 600 businesses operating in the neighborhood.
The area was almost completely destroyed during the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, when some 35 city blocks were leveled and as many as 300 African Americans killed.
Within a decade after the massacre, African American Tulsans managed to rebuild the Greenwood District back into a thriving city-within-a-city.
And that, said actor, film maker and author Hill Harper, is the story that needs to be told, as well as a model to emulate.
Speaking via livestream, Harper, who is the honorary co-chairman of the campaign, said he was “humbled and proud” to participate in this “celebratory day.”
He added, “We are not here in sorrow. We are here to act — to create meaningful and sustainable progress, and to demonstrate to the world the power of black folks working together.
“To me,” Harper said, “this is sacred ground. And this sacred ground deserves our investment and commitment.”
Other speakers at the event included Patricia Carter Breekner, of the Greenwood Business Owners Association; Kim Randolph, president and CEO of the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, which covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska; and Mike Meehan, owner of Fat Guys Burger Bar.
“I’ve been a proud business owner in Greenwood for a decade,” he said, “and I’m honored and excited to have a part in this movement.”
Tulsa is gearing up for a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at the BOK Center on Saturday, and at one point Gov. Kevin Stitt had suggested Trump tour the Greenwood District during his time in Tulsa. Stitt now is saying he is recommending the president not tour the area.
Freeman Culver, president and CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, was asked if the president’s staff had reached out to him about a visit.
Freeman said he had not been contacted by the president’s staff, but added, “At this time, we welcome everyone. We would love to show the president all about the history of Greenwood.”
Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants, the second stunning election-season rebuke from the court in a week after its ruling that it’s illegal to fire people because they’re gay or transgender.
Immigrants who are part of the 8-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program will retain their protection from deportation and their authorization to work in the United States — safe almost certainly at least through the November election, immigration experts said.
The 5-4 outcome, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices were in the majority, seems certain to elevate the issue in Trump’s campaign, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of his first presidential run in 2016 and immigration restrictions his administration has imposed since then.
The justices said the administration did not take the proper steps to end DACA, rejecting arguments that the program is illegal and that courts have no role to play in reviewing the decision to end it. The program covers people who have been in the United States since they were children and are in the country illegally. In some cases, they have no memory of any home other than the U.S.
Trump didn’t hold back in his assessment of the court’s work, hitting hard at a political angle.
“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” he wrote on Twitter, apparently including the LGBTQ ruling as well.
In a second tweet, he wrote, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”
Later, he said the decision showed the need for additional conservative justices to join the two he has appointed, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and pledged to release a new list from which he would choose a nominee if another opening occurs on his watch. Both of his appointees dissented on Thursday, though Gorsuch wrote the LGBTQ rights ruling.
Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden pledged to send Congress proposed legislation on his first day in office to make DACA protections permanent.
Roberts, with whom Trump has sparred, wrote for the court that the administration did not pursue the end of the program properly.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients.”
The Department of Homeland Security can try again, he wrote. But any new order to end the program, and the legal challenge it would provoke, would likely take months, if not longer.
“No way that’s going to happen before November,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University Law School.
The court’s four conservative justices dissented. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, wrote that DACA was illegal from the moment it was created under the Obama administration in 2012. Thomas called the ruling “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”
Alito wrote that federal judges had prevented DACA from being ended “during an entire Presidential term. Our constitutional system is not supposed to work that way.”
Justice Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that he was satisfied that the administration acted appropriately.
“We’ll keep living our lives in the meantime,” said Cesar Espinosa, who leads the Houston immigration advocacy group FIEL. “We’re going to continue to work, continue to advocate.”
Espinosa said he got little sleep overnight in anticipation of a possible decision. In the minutes after the decision was posted, he said his group was “flooded with calls with Dreamers, happy, with that hope that they’re going to at least be in this country for a while longer.”
From the Senate floor, the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said of the DACA decision, “I cried tears of joy.”
“Wow,” he went on, choking up. “These kids, these families, I feel for them, and I think all of America does.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas had a different take, labeling DACA illegal and focusing his wrath on Roberts.
“Yet John Roberts again postures as a Solomon who will save our institutions from political controversy and accountability. If the Chief Justice believes his political judgment is so exquisite, I invite him to resign, travel to Iowa, and get elected,” Cotton said in a statement.
The program grew out of an impasse over a comprehensive immigration bill between Congress and the Obama administration in 2012. President Barack Obama decided to formally protect people from deportation while also allowing them to work legally in the U.S.
But Trump made tough talk on immigration a central part of his campaign and less than eight months after taking office, he announced in September 2017 that he would end DACA.
Immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led states quickly sued, and courts put the administration’s plan on hold.
The Department of Homeland Security has continued to process two-year DACA renewals so that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients have protections stretching beyond the election and even into 2022. No new applications have been accepted since 2017, and it probably would take a court order to change that, Yale-Loehr said.
The Supreme Court fight over DACA played out in a kind of legal slow motion. The administration first wanted the justices to hear and decide the case by June 2018. The justices said no. The Justice Department returned to the court later in 2018, but the justices did nothing for more than seven months before agreeing a year ago to hear arguments. Those took place in November and more than seven months elapsed before the court’s decision.
Thursday’s ruling was the second time in two years that Roberts and the liberal justices faulted the administration for the way it went about a policy change. Last year, the court forced the administration to back off a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
In 2018, Roberts joined his conservative colleagues to preserve Trump’s travel ban affecting several countries with largely Muslim populations. In that instance, Roberts wrote the administration put the policy — or at least its third version — in place properly.
Officials with the management company that runs the BOK Center said Thursday that they fully apprised state and city leaders early on about President Donald Trump’s plans to hold a political rally here before approving the rental agreement.
Those comments contrast with those made by Mayor G.T. Bynum who, in a Facebook post Tuesday, implied that he was left out of the loop when it came to planning for the event.
In the Facebook post, Bynum said it was not his idea to invite the Trump campaign to hold a rally this weekend.
“I didn’t even know the invitation had been extended until BOK Center management contacted the city regarding police support for the event,” Bynum wrote.
Doug Thornton, executive vice president for Arena, Stadia and Theaters at ASM Global, made his comment about immediately notifying others during a special meeting of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority on Thursday. The board leases the facility from the city and contracts with ASM Global to run it. The TPFA met virtually, with board members and other participants meeting via video conferencing software.
Mayoral spokeswoman Michelle Brooks said Bynum would not comment on Thornton’s comments. She said the executive was referring at the time to the city’s police capacity to address anything outside the BOK Center, rather than the event itself.
Trump’s re-election campaign paid $460,000 to rent the BOK Center for three days as part of its plan to hold a political rally Saturday. It is believed to be the first indoor event of its kind in the nation where a facility is expected to be at full capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulsa Public Facilities Authority board members were told.
The Trump campaign first contacted ASM Global staff on June 9 about holding a rally at the BOK Center this Friday, Thornton said. The Trump campaign moved the rally to Saturday after critics noted that Friday is Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery.
“Knowing this would be a large-scale event, we immediately contacted the city when the Trump campaign approached them about holding a rally at the BOK,” Thornton said.
“We would never book a show or an event of this magnitude that would have the impact on the public infrastructure outside the facility without advising the police chief, the mayor, those officials,” Thornton said.
“We were told at the time by city officials there were no concerns from a public safety standpoint,” Thornton said. “We were advised to support the event to the greatest extent that the state and the president would allow.”
Thornton said he was told by the Governor’s Office that the capacity event at the arena fit within the state’s reopening plan guidance for large indoor entertainment events.
“So, based on that, we executed a contract” on Friday, Thornton said.
The majority of Thursday’s meeting dealt with safety concerns about hosting the rally and whether the public body could have done anything to halt or postpone it.
TPFA Chairwoman Marcia MacLeod told the board that there seems to be a misperception among some members of the public that the TPFA has the “unfettered ability” to revoke a contract and move the event to another venue.
“That is not the case,” MacLeod said.
Rather, she said, ASM Global, under the terms of its contract, has the sole authority to enter into a contract with outside entities to use the BOK Center and neighboring Cox Convention Center.
The thought of hosting a large indoor political rally during a pandemic did not sit well with some board members.
Vice Chairman George Sartain asked Thornton about earlier statements he made to the board about booking the BOK Center during the pandemic.
“The last time we heard from you there were no events until September, October, November, December. What happened to that?” Sartain asked.
Thornton said that at the time, about a month ago when the comment was made, ASM Global was giving the TPFA an overview of what it was hearing in the industry — that many shows would not book sites if they could not operate at full capacity.
“And I think that’s still true,” said Thornton, who also provided an overview of the steps that will be taken to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
The Trump campaign has told ASM Global that it has 60,000 masks and 90,000 personal containers of hand sanitizer to hand out to rally attendees.
Thornton said BOK workers will require rally attendees to wear a mask when they enter the facility. But he acknowledged that he didn’t know whether they could legally require attendees to wear masks.
Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart has expressed his concerns that the rally will cause cases to spike even higher than the current record numbers. Dart has said he wishes the rally would be postponed due to its potential to further spread the deadly virus.
Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye told the board that the state is in “strange times and uncharted water.”
‘I don’t know the legalities of all of this, but I feel like this is a train rolling down the hill that we are not going to be able to stop,” Frye said. “And we are probably just going to have to figure out how we are going to try to decrease the spread during this event and keep really messaging out there that vulnerable populations need to stay home — watch it from TV, don’t go.”
Frye said he didn’t know how CDC guidelines could be enforced during large public gatherings.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know that the population that is attending this is a population that is going to listen to us, but we have to keep that message going,” Frye said.
Gallery: Tulsa Race Massacre ... This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921
Oklahoma saw a 5.1% jump in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, with 450 new cases and two additional deaths.
Thursday’s numbers, which include the highest daily count since the pandemic began, leaves the state with 9,354 cases overall, with more than 1,100 of those coming since Sunday.
Thursday’s numbers, which were delayed from their regular 11 a.m. release time because of reported technical difficulties, continue a sharp upward trend going back to late May.
Tulsa County has 120 additional cases, up more than 6%, and one more death, according to state data.
Concern remains about the potential for President Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the BOK Center on Saturday to spread the virus further.
At a news conference Wednesday, Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart said the potential for “super spread” exists with nearly 20,000 people in an enclosed arena.
“Whenever people come together from outside and go back, there’s always potential for a super-spreader event,” Dart said. “And some people, unfortunately, just spread the virus more efficiently than others, which results in super-spreader individuals, and so of course that’s a concern.”
Thursday’s continued spike saw Tulsa County’s seven-day rolling average of new cases rise to 81.9. There are 654 active cases in the county, according to Tulsa Health Department data.
Statewide hospitalization numbers saw an increase in confirmed COVID-19 patients, with 76 of 129 of those in intensive care. Another 82 people remain under investigation for possible COVID-19, with 20 of those in ICU, according to state data.
Throwback Tulsa: Photos of presidents, candidates and other politicians who have visited Oklahoma