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Mayor condemns Tulsa police major's comments; state representative calls for his firing; police chief reviewing situation

A Tulsa police major’s comments on a local radio show Tuesday drew a series of condemnations from community leaders and from his own police department Wednesday.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said the statements made by Maj. Travis Yates are the opposite of what the Tulsa Police Department is trying to accomplish in the community. Other leaders said they believe Yates should resign, and a state representative said he should be fired.

Yates spoke on the Pat Campbell Show on Talk Radio 1170 on Tuesday. He discussed “defunding the police,” chokeholds, police relations and policy. He denied the existence of systemic racism several times and also discussed officer-involved shootings.

“By the way, all the research on this says … we’re shooting African-Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be based on the crimes being committed,” Yates said, later telling the Tulsa World he was referencing controversial research from an economist, as well as a conservative commentator and the National Academy of Sciences.

“I want to believe he didn’t intend to say what he did, but what he did say goes against everything we are trying to achieve in community policing,” Bynum wrote in a Facebook post.

The Tulsa Police Department issued a statement saying it didn’t “condone or support” Yates’ comments and that they are being reviewed by the Internal Affairs Unit.

Yates’ statements also prompted a news conference from the president of the Tulsa Police Department’s Black Officers Coalition, who said the comments reflect a broader problem with police.

“The issue is the culture of policing,” Tulsa Police Lt. Marcus Harper said. Harper specified that he wasn’t representing the Tulsa Police Department with his comments but was representing the Black Officers Coalition.

“That’s what we’re fighting against — the culture of policing,” he said. “Because these are the things that we’ve done historically. We’ve done them this way all the time.”

Harper said Yates has made similar controversial statements in recent years. He said he believes that the statements represent Yates’ views. Several times Harper mentioned Yates’ statement: “… we’re shooting African-Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be. …”

“He said what he said, and he meant what he said,” Harper said. “It’s like he’s trying to appease a certain audience, and that audience is the law enforcement community. What’s dangerous is when those inside of the law enforcement community are influenced by what he says. … That is the issue, and there’s no way around it.”

During his radio interview, Yates discussed systemic racism, claiming it isn’t an issue in police departments.

“They can’t give you specifics, and as I said earlier, (systemic racism) doesn’t exist. … When you look at something that’s systematic, you have to look at the overall compounded data,” Yates said, referencing U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s statements about racism and policing. “Now, we’re not saying there’s not individual racist police officers; that’d be stupid.”

In his Facebook post, Bynum said Yates “does not speak for my administration, for the Tulsa Police Department, or the City of Tulsa. His comments are under review by the Chief’s Office.

“And if he didn’t mean to make the statement in the way it has been received, he owes Tulsans a clarification and an apology,” the mayor said.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, the Tulsa Police Department said the matter had been referred to the Internal Affairs Unit.

“We appreciate and respect the concerns we are hearing from the community regarding these comments,” the department said in its statement. “Chief Wendell Franklin and the Tulsa Police Department want to make it very clear we do not endorse, condone or support Yates’ comments made on the show. …

“We want to make it clear the statements made by Yates are not a part of any curriculum or training provided by the Department. Yates’ comments do not align with the mission, values or policies of the Tulsa Police Department.”

The TPD statement notes that Yates is assigned to the Records Division, “which is primarily staffed with civilian employees.”

Yates’ statements came when he was not on duty, according to TPD, “and are neither official representations of the Department nor of his fellow officers.”

Yates said on Campbell’s show that he has received at least two death threats.

“I think that we need to have a healthy debate on that,” Yates said in an interview Wednesday with the Tulsa World. “We have to leave the tension at the door and just have an honest dialogue.”

In a prepared statement on Yates’ Facebook page, he wrote that news coverage of his statements “does not reflect my hypothetical discussion of statistics based on the research of others.”

Yates condemned notions that he advocates for more police violence against people of color.

“This is plainly false and factually inaccurate,” he said in the statement. “And to think that beyond a discussion of comparative statistics that I would suggest that the ‘police should actually be shooting’ anyone is simply outrageous.”

Marq Lewis, a community activist with We the People Oklahoma, called for Yates’ resignation in 2016 after a previous incident and called for it again this week.

“When people listen to Travis Yates, they see a representation of the Tulsa Police Department,” Lewis said.

He criticized Yates’ statements for emphasizing statistics about people of color in lieu of a broader look at data and facts.

“He may not be the trigger finger, but he is certainly giving people the power to go out there and shoot and the mentality that black people are criminals,” Lewis said.

Harper did not call for TPD to take action against Yates during his news conference because “nothing is going to happen,” adding that the major is protected by the First Amendment.

Following the conference, community activist Tiffany Crutcher said she believes that Yates should be forced to resign or at least demoted.

“He’s made several comments that are antithetical to the oath that he swears to as a police officer,” said Crutcher, whose brother Terence Crutcher was killed by a Tulsa police officer in 2016.

“Personally, in my humble opinion, there’s no place for his comments or rhetoric within one of the most powerful entities in this country, and that’s law enforcement,” she said. “Those comments, all they do is divide when we’re trying to bridge that fear, bridge that mistrust and ultimately better the relationships between the black community and law enforcement.”

State Rep. Regina Goodwin, whose House district includes north Tulsa, took it a step further, calling for Yates to be fired.

Her animosity toward the major goes back to 2016, when he faced criticism for an editorial stating that police are “at war.”

Goodwin said she was collaborating with Yates to host an event on community policing when he made the controversial comment four years ago.

“He’s had a history of this publicly,” Goodwin said. “When he said that, I said there’s no way in the world he can come in here and try to have a symposium on community policing and you think you’re at war with us,” she said. “So that comment and all the way up to this most recent comment he made about how we’re probably shooting black folks 20% less than we should be, he should not be in that position as an officer while I’m paying him as a taxpayer.”

In an interview with the Tulsa World on Wednesday, Yates said he wrote the 2016 editorial following the slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He said the article was not meant to imply that police are at war with Black Lives Matter protesters.

Yates stressed to the Tulsa World that his statements were made as an individual and that the Tulsa Police Department should be insulated from them.

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, expressed outrage at Yates’ most recent comments during a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol to outline his reform proposals. Like others, he was most concerned about the 24% claim regarding police shootings of African Americans.

“I don’t believe that any officer who not only feels that way but is bold enough to go on a radio station and publicly voice those attitudes will ever have the confidence of the public that is required to be a good law enforcement officer,” Nichols said.

“I certainly have no confidence in his ability to do his job, and hopefully some corrective action is taken.

“I will also say on that topic, I was proud to see the Tulsa Black Officers Coalition push back against those comments.”


Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall

Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall

Business
Multi-year, $50 million commitment by GKFF boosts Tulsa Innovation Labs' effort to transform city into tech hub

The George Kaiser Family Foundation is investing $50 million toward making the city of Tulsa a technology hub.

Revealed Wednesday, the commitment coincides with the release of a GKFF-backed Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL) report that identifies the city’s five most promising tech clusters: virtual health, energy tech, drones, cyber and analytics.

“It’s bold. It’s ambitious and we mean business,” Nicholas Lalla, co-founder and managing director of TIL, said by phone Wednesday. “Tulsa has talked about developing an innovation economy over the past few years, generating a lot of excitement with cyber, for example. You see the great buzz coming out of the engagement with Tesla. Great things are happening in Tulsa. The community has great aspirations for itself, and rightly so.”

The $50 million sum is derived from several ongoing commitments — such as Tulsa Remote — and other long-term initiatives centered on workforce, education and talent recruitment and development, a GKFF official said.

Recognizing that future jobs are rooted in an innovation economy, TIL was founded earlier this year to develop a multi-phase, city-wide strategy that positions Tulsa as a tech hub.

“The universities and start-ups and corporates in town are doing really great work,” Lalla said. “We see TIL’s role as really connecting dots, filling in ecosystem gaps, building partnerships and creating new initiatives that bring people together and push things forward on the innovation front.”

TIL worked with global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company to identify specific tech clusters with high-growth opportunities in Tulsa. In collaboration with stakeholders, TIL will translate its analyses into a suite of new programming design to spur growth in priority industries, support start-ups, ignite academic innovation and develop local talent.

“We spent a lot of time and effort developing these top five opportunities,” Lalla said. “So we certainly will be using these as our organizing principles for TIL. We recognize that this is a long-term endeavor. Cities don’t become tech hubs overnight … The great news is that there are so many existing assets and energy and momentum in Tulsa already that we are really looking to push the needle over the next two to three years.”

“This report isn’t going to sit on the shelf. We really see this as a playbook for action. We have our marching orders and we have great ideas from community and industry and university partners. So over the next few months, we’re going to be translating this analysis into action.”

The report evaluated multiple tech industries to identify the highest growth and most contestable areas for Tulsa. TIL prioritized opportunities that would create inclusive, high-paying jobs in both the near and long-terms and built preliminary action plans to catalyze growth in each area.

TIL plans on prioritizing its virtual health and workforce activities in cyber and analytics in phase one, and new programming and project opportunities in that phase will be announced later this year.

As part of the study, TIL gained the perspectives of at least 100 stakeholders. A Tulsa-based charitable organization, GKFF, through public and private partnerships, has spearheaded many high-impact projects, including the urban park Gathering Place.

“GKFF’s core focus is early intervention in the cycle of poverty,” Ken Levit, executive director of GKFF, said in a statement. “But we know that to provide long-term opportunities for Tulsa’s families, we need to invest in our local economy and prepare Tulsa for the jobs of the future. That’s why we’re excited about supporting Tulsa Innovation Labs. TIL is going to be instrumental in creating a thriving and inclusive economy that creates new opportunities for Tulsans.”

Local leaders already have begun implementing programs to spark innovation and develop talent. Among them are a doctoral fellowship in cyber and a coding academy.

TIL is partnering with the University of Tulsa to bring a leading cyber venture creation company, Team8, to Tulsa. Founded in Tel Aviv, with a large New York City office, Team8 is collaborating with 10 doctoral students each year to create cyber-related companies from their research projects. The fellowship provides incentives for fellows to stay in Tulsa upon graduation and pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.

“The University of Tulsa is known for its excellence in cyber,” Nadav Zafrif, founder and CEO of Team8, said in a statement. “Taking academic research and leveraging that to create new businesses will feed Tulsa’s burgeoning innovation economy. This type of partnership, between the university, Tulsa Innovation Labs, and Team8 represents a new model for commercializing innovation and spurring economic growth.”

In addition, the Holberton School, a software engineering academy based in San Francisco, launched its third U.S. campus in Tulsa in January. At scale, Holberton will graduate 500 software engineers annually.

“Having diverse backgrounds and experiences in the workplace makes for better business decisions, more responsive products, and a more inclusive ecosystem,” Libby Wuller, executive director of Holberton School-Tulsa, said in a statement. “As Tulsa strives to build a tech-enabled economy, we must do so with a diverse workforce. At Holberton, our deferred tuition model and living assistance program aim to create pathways to the software engineering profession regardless of an individual’s circumstances.”


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Government-and-politics
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President Trump coming to Tulsa for a rally as he returns to the campaign trail

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will hold a campaign rally in Tulsa on June 19, the first since such events were suspended earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’ve done a great job with COVID, as you know, in the state of Oklahoma,” Trump said.

Without naming the specific location of the rally, which is expected to be an evening event, the president described it as a “beautiful new venue, brand new.”

“We are looking forward to it,” he said.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said his office is working to confirm details on the venue and visit.

“Tulsans have managed one of the first successful reopenings in the nation, so we can only guess that may be the reason President Trump selected Tulsa as a rally site,” Bynum said. “The city of Tulsa continues to follow the state of Oklahoma’s OURS plan on COVID-19 response as it relates to events, which encourages the organizer to have enhanced hygiene considerations for attendees.”

Leading Oklahoma Republicans applauded the news, echoing Trump’s take on the state’s effort on the pandemic.

“It’s an incredible honor to have President Trump select Tulsa for the rally. It highlights how Oklahoma is leading the way in handling the coronavirus and responsibly reopening,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, dean of the state’s congressional delegation.

“Our president is doing everything he can to restart our economy, create jobs, strengthen our military and put America first.

“I can’t think of a better launching point for this phase of his campaign.”

Inhofe, who is running for re-election and will appear on the ballot with Trump, expressed appreciation for the president’s support.

First District Rep. Kevin Hern agreed with the choice of Tulsa for the president’s first rally since the pandemic started.

“We are excited to welcome the president to Tulsa,” Hern said. “It’s only fitting that President Trump’s first post-coronavirus rally is right here at home.”

Hern described Tulsans as passionate about Trump’s effort to rebuild the economy and maintain the progress experienced over the last three years. “I can’t wait to join my neighbors and friends in support of the president at his rally next week,” he said.

Gov. Kevin Stitt also welcomed the news.

“We are honored President Trump accepted our invitation to our great state,” Stitt said.

“The president is making Oklahoma his first campaign stop since March 2, and his visit here confirms Oklahoma is the national example in responsibly and safely reopening.”

Trump, who made a campaign stop at Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University Mabee Center in 2016, won Oklahoma’s presidential election four years ago by 36 percentage points.

The president made the announcement during a meeting at the White House with African American supporters, including Dr. Ben Carson, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“We’ve had a tremendous run at rallies,” he said.

In addition to the first rally in Tulsa, Trump said his campaign has rallies scheduled in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

Before the president’s unexpected announcement of the Tulsa rally, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked by a reporter about the precautions that will be taken “for the safety of the rally-goers.”

McEnany said she had no specific announcements on rallies and directed the press to reach out to the campaign for that information.

“But we will ensure that everyone who goes is safe,” she said.

Trump also spoke of possibly moving the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, this summer when he is scheduled to accept the official nomination of the party for a second term.

“We’ll see how it all works out, but the governor doesn’t want to give an inch,” he said, referring to the ongoing differences between himself and that state’s governor over scheduling such a large gathering during a global pandemic.

Trump said an announcement would be coming shortly, adding that many states, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, would like to host the convention.


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Gallery: Trump supporters clash with protesters at Tulsa rally in 2019

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Government-and-politics
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Watch Now: Bynum critics put forward a candidate for mayoral race Aug. 25

Critics of Mayor G.T. Bynum’s record on race and policing sent out Greg Robinson as their standard bearer on Wednesday as the field for the Aug. 25 mayoral election grew to eight on the last day of filing.

Joining Bynum and three others who had previously filed for the office were Robinson, art studio owner Ricco Wright, restaurant owner Ty Walker and businessman Craig Immel.

Robinson, 30, is director of family and community engagement with the Met Cares Foundation, a nonprofit offering leadership and education resources in north Tulsa, including the Greenwood Leadership Academy.

Robinson filed for mayor at midday Wednesday.

“My name will be on the ballot, but this will be a ‘we’ thing,” said Robinson, who spoke at the Tulsa County Election Board on Wednesday with Tiffany Crutcher, Kristi Williams and City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper.

All four have been critical of Bynum over issues such as an independent monitor of the Police Department, policing methods and reparations for Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre.

Last week, after a group of Tulsans tried to confront Bynum over policing and race relations in the city, Bynum met with a group that included Robinson, Crutcher and Hall-Harper. Bynum agreed to drop the Tulsa Police Department’s involvement in the “Live PD” television program and to work toward agreement on other issues.

Bynum also agreed to meet with Crutcher and her family concerning their lawsuit over her brother Terence Crutcher’s 2016 death at the hands of then-TPD Officer Betty Shelby. A jury found Shelby not guilty of manslaughter in the case but recommended changes in police training and suggested that Shelby was not suited for law enforcement.

Shelby is now a Rogers County sheriff’s deputy.

Robinson said Bynum has been disingenuous about race relations. He said Bynum’s comments about Terence Crutcher’s shooting, aired by CBS over the weekend, are the most recent example.

“To say racism is the city’s No. 1 issue and then to say there is no racially biased policing doesn’t make sense,” Robinson said.

“We’re sick and tired of (the city) acting as if racism doesn’t exist,” he said. “If that scares some people, I certainly understand. But these things need to be addressed. We don’t want to force anything down people’s throat; we want to build consensus.”

Robinson described himself as an organizer “looking at what other people bring to the table.” He worked in the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns, and he has been involved in several community activities, including the search for unmarked burial sites of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Wright, Immel and Walker also have some name recognition.

Walker, 54, owns Wanda J’s Next Generation restaurant and was an unsuccessful candidate for City Council in 2018. He and Wright have both crossed swords with the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, which manages the historic Greenwood Center, where the two men have had businesses.

Wanda J’s is still in the building, but Wright has moved his Black Wall Street Gallery to the Green Arch Building on the southwest corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street.

Immel, 44, was the original plaintiff in the lawsuit that held up development of city-owned property at 71st Street and Riverside Drive by the REI sporting goods chain. That deal ultimately fell through.

Wright, 38, said Tulsa needs a change.

“I’ve had an aversion to politics, but I thought, ‘You know, it’s time,’” he said. “I’m not a politician; I’m more of a leader. I think right now this city and this world needs great leadership.”

Three mayoral candidates — Robinson, Wright and Walker — are African American, which likely is the most ever.

A spokeswoman for Bynum said Wednesday that he is too busy with city affairs to think much about his reelection campaign.

“Mayor Bynum is focused on leading our community through the current challenges and keeping Tulsans focused on renewing our spirit of high expectations, just like he outlined when he first ran four years ago,” said campaign manager Kathryn Junk.

“Being mayor of Tulsa is more than a full-time job, especially in 2020,” Junk said. “We have a campaign kickoff at a later date.”

City Councilors Jeannie Cue and Phil Lakin and City Auditor Cathy Champion Carter drew no opponents this year.

The most crowded City Council race will be District 5, where four candidates — all under 40 — are challenging first-term incumbent Cass Fahler, 47.

City elections are nonpartisan and must be decided by a majority vote. In cases in which no majority is achieved in the Aug. 25 election, runoffs will be held in conjunction with the general election on Nov. 3.


Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall

Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall