Under masks, through clouds of dust and with howling winds trying to rip posterboards from their hands, protesters walked as Joshua Barre did three years ago.
Barre, 29, was shot by two sheriff’s deputies and one Tulsa police officer on June 9, 2017, as he tried to enter a convenience store at 46th Street North and Martin Luther King Boulevard carrying two knives.
Deputies had previously tried to serve Barre with a civil order for a mental health evaluation and had followed him to the store after receiving calls about him walking down the street before shots were fired.
At the empty lot north of the Super Stop where Barre was shot, Etta Barre emotionally told the rally’s crowd how Barre “fell through the cracks” and that his death has to bring change. She said she wants her son’s memory to be a call for first responders to be better equipped to handle those with mental illness and avoid tragedy.
“We want for them to get the right training so whenever they get a call for a mental health patient, or if they’re out in public causing some kind of havoc, they’ll have a way to deal with it instead of using force,” Barre said.
“When you lose a child, it’s a different kind of pain. It’s not the same as if you lose your grandmother or your grandfather.”
Amid cries of “Justice for Joshua”, “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” protesters marched into the neighborhood before doubling back on Barre’s path from that morning. Residents raised fists and chanted from front porches while children ran through front yards to follow along.
The shooting’s immediate aftermath three years ago saw protests, Tulsa police in riot gear and the department’s mobile command post set up at the scene. Barre’s shooting by law enforcement officers was the first in north Tulsa after the mid-May acquittal of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby on a manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher the previous September.
Deputies made previous attempts that week to serve Barre the civil order but opted not to enter his home to retrieve him because he was threatening to kill law enforcement officers.
The two deputies involved, part of the Sheriff’s Office’s Mental Health Unit, had followed Barre in their vehicle, trying to get him to drop the knives, before getting out and shooting him as he tried to enter the Super Stop.
None of the three law enforcement officers involved were charged in connection with the shooting.
Barre’s estate filed a federal lawsuit against the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office about events leading up to the shooting in 2018, in which they allege that Barre’s death was “eminently preventable.” The case is ongoing.
Despite that, Barre’s mother said she has “no hate in my heart” for those involved.
“I feel like if they had the proper training, they would have handled it differently,” Barre said. “It’s so unfortunate. I don’t want Joshua’s life, his death, I don’t want it to be in vain. That’s why we came together today.”
Among the speakers at Tuesday’s rally was the Rev. Lawrence Parker, Barre’s pastor at Galatians Missionary Baptist Church and his uncle. Although some at the rally were hopeful that the nationwide wave of activism in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis could spark further change for the better, Parker said he’s doubtful.
It’s up to the nation’s leaders to make change, Parker said, and though he doubts that will happen, he would love to be proven wrong.
Until then, Parker said he, the community and those who knew Barre are searching for the answers they wanted when crime scene tape still surrounded the Super Stop.
“Three years ago, we buried him. We had this service,” Parker said. “And now three years later, we’re asking the same thing: Why?”
Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall
HOUSTON — George Floyd was fondly remembered Tuesday as “Big Floyd” — a father and brother, athlete and neighborhood mentor, and now a catalyst for change — at a funeral for the black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice.
More than 500 mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed a Houston church a little more than two weeks after Floyd was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on his neck for what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Cellphone video of the encounter, including Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe,” ignited protests and scattered violence across the U.S. and around the world, turning the 46-year-old Floyd — a man who in life was little known beyond the public housing project where he was raised in Houston’s Third Ward — into a worldwide symbol of injustice.
“Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that’s where he was born at,” Floyd’s brother, Rodney, told mourners at the Fountain of Praise church. “But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.”
The funeral capped six days of mourning for Floyd in three cities: Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born; Houston, where he grew up; and Minneapolis, where he died. The memorials have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become familiar in the debate over race and justice — among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.
After the service, Floyd’s golden casket was taken by hearse to the cemetery in the Houston suburb of Pearland where he was to be entombed next to his mother, for whom he cried out as he lay dying. A mile from the graveyard, the casket was transferred to a glass-sided carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. A brass band played as his casket was taken inside the mausoleum.
Hundreds of people, some chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd,” gathered along the procession route and outside the cemetery entrance in the mid-90s heat.
“I don’t want to see any black man, any man, but most definitely not a black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police,” said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd’s alma mater.
In the past two weeks, amid the furor over Floyd’s death, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities are debating overhauling, dismantling or cutting funding for police departments. Authorities in some places have barred police from using chokeholds or are otherwise rethinking policies on the use of force.
Dozens of Floyd’s family members, most dressed in white, took part in the four-hour service. Grammy-winning singer Ne-Yo was among those who sang.
The mourners included actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, J.J. Watt of the NFL’s Houston Texans, rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city.
“I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why? Why is Daddy gone?” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said, addressing Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter in a video eulogy played at the service. “Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.”
Biden made no mention of his opponent in November. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities to crack down hard on lawlessness.
“The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. “He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?”
Most of the pews were full, with relatively little space between people.
“So much for social distancing today,” the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to wear face masks.
Texas has no limit on how many people can gather in places of worship during the pandemic, though Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has encouraged churches to follow federal health guidelines.
Although the church service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside to pay their respects.
“There’s a real big change going on, and everybody, especially black, right now should be a part of that,” said Kersey Biagase, who traveled more than three hours from Port Barre, Louisiana, with his girlfriend, Brandi Pickney. They wore T-shirts printed with Floyd’s name and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Floyd served nearly five years in prison for robbery with a deadly weapon before becoming a mentor and a church outreach volunteer in Houston. He moved to Minnesota several years ago through a program that tried to change men’s lives by helping them find work in new settings.
At the time of his death, Floyd was out of work as a bouncer at a Minneapolis club that had closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. He was seized by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
Four Minneapolis officers were arrested in his death: Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree murder. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting. All four could get up to 40 years in prison.
Some of the mostly peaceful demonstrations that erupted after Floyd’s death were marked by bursts of arson, assaults, vandalism and smash-and-grab raids on businesses, with more than 10,000 people arrested. But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
Worried that one of the worst eviction rates in the country will jump even higher in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, charitable donors are offering to pay overdue rents for more than 500 Tulsa families.
Restore Hope Ministries will use an open-ended grant to pay rents for tenants who received eviction notices while the courts were closed for COVID-19. But landlords will have to agree to a mediation process while not refiling an eviction notice for at least the next three months, officials said.
Depending on how many tenants and landlords accept the offer, the money could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, said the Rev. Jeff Jaynes, the organization’s executive director.
“Tenants in Tulsa County have been experiencing an eviction crisis for years,” Jaynes said, “and COVID-19 has added to that crisis.”
Landlords filed 14,315 residential evictions in the county last year, a similar pace to that of 2018, when a national study found that Tulsa had the 11th highest eviction rate in the United States.
Filings slowed down between mid-March and June 1, while the eviction docket was closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, but the court was receiving more than 1,000 cases per month before the shutdown began, according to data collected by the University of Tulsa.
Landlords may bring a huge backlog of eviction filings now that the docket has resumed, Jaynes said. But the new funding will help them as much as the tenants, he said.
“There are some amazing landlords in our community and some wonderful tenants,” Jaynes said. “We know that it’s hard work to be a good landlord and hard work to be a good tenant.”
It’s a purely “temporary solution,” but the effort to encourage mediation might offer a model for cutting Tulsa’s eviction rate in the long-term, said Stacy Schusterman, chairwoman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which is funding the effort along with the Tulsa Area COVID-19 Response Fund, administered by the Tulsa Community Foundation and Tulsa Area United Way.
“We look forward to seeing meaningful changes to the county’s eviction docket,” Schusterman said, “as we begin a process of building better landlord-tenant relations through mediation and other cooperative efforts.”
The Early Settlement Mediation Program, sponsored by Tulsa County and the Oklahoma Supreme Court, has a 75% success rate, said Becky Gligo, housing policy director for the city.
“If these funds can offer an incentive to find new ways to work out landlord/tenant concerns,” Gligo said, “both parties and our community will ultimately benefit.”
Meanwhile, the University of Tulsa’s Terry West Civil Legal Clinic is calling for sweeping reforms in the county’s eviction court.
Law students monitored the docket for roughly two months before the COVID-19 shutdown began, and they observed several “barriers to justice for tenants,” according a report the school issued this week.
Tenants “face a legal system weighted against them,” the report says, noting that landlords almost always have attorneys while tenants almost never do. Out of 1,395 eviction cases in January, only two tenants prevailed in court, the study says.
The problem begins with the sheer number of cases overwhelming the court’s resources, said Roni Amit, the professor who oversaw the project.
“Demand on the eviction docket makes it impossible to meet the competing pressures of fairness and efficiency,” Amit said.
For more information on the Tulsa Tenants and Landlords Rent Relief Program, call 211 or go to help.restorehope.org.
Tulsa Community Foundation is taking donations for the Tulsa Area COVID-19 Response Fund at tulsacf.org. Checks payable to Tulsa Community Foundation (memo: Tulsa Area COVID-19) may be mailed to 7030 S. Yale Ave. Suite 600, Tulsa, OK 74136.
Gallery: Ministers, faith leaders unite for prayer march on City Hall
OKLAHOMA CITY — Black Oklahoma City resident Derrick Elliott Olie Scott pleaded “I can’t breathe! Please! Help me! I can’t breathe,” as three Oklahoma City police officers pinned him to the ground with their knees and hands, removed a handgun from his pocket and held him there for about 13 minutes while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
Scott’s pleas were chillingly similar to those of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has been the catalyst for nationwide protests.
Scott, 41, was pronounced dead at an Oklahoma City hospital on May 20, 2019, about an hour after his arrest.
Release of police officers’ body cam video of the arrest was one of the demands of Black Lives Matter. The Oklahoma City Police Department complied with that demand Monday by releasing the video to family and the news media.
Derrick Scott’s mother, Vickey Scott, reviewed portions of the arrest videos and was upset by what she saw.
“I think that it was one of the most inhumane things that I have ever seen,” she said. “They did not do anything for him. They treated him like he was an animal.
“He was trying to get his breath. He was trying to breathe, and they ignored him the whole time, like he was nothing. They even treat animals better than they treated my son.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “I want every mother to watch that … and imagine that’s your son’s last so many minutes of life and he’s dying and they’re saying that he’s faking.”
She was referring to portions of the videos where one of the officers questioned whether her son was faking being unconscious as he lay handcuffed on the ground with another officer still kneeling on his legs.
She said she has had to watch the videos a little bit at a time because it’s too hard to watch them all at once.
“My heart is just broken. It’s broken,” she said. “I want the officers to be convicted of killing my son. I want something to be done about police officers being more compassionate when people tell them they can’t breathe.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater reviewed the arrest last year and had a very different conclusion about what he saw. Prater sent an email to Police Chief Wade Gourley last August clearing the officers of wrongdoing.
“In reviewing the actions of your officers I saw nothing inappropriate; nor was there any evidence of misconduct by your officers,” Prater wrote. “They did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances and handled the call very well.”
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Larry Withrow called a news conference Tuesday and described the arrest.
Withrow said the techniques used to restrain Derrick Scott were consistent with what officers are taught at the police academy to minimize the risk of physically harming suspects.
He specifically mentioned that one officer placed her knee across Scott’s shoulder blades and that another officer straddled Scott’s waist and later slid down to his legs, once control had been achieved.
He said that when Scott complained that he couldn’t breathe and appeared to lose consciousness, officers rolled him over into a “recovery position” and immediately called for medical assistance and began to monitor his health.
“I don’t know that there is any more that they could have done to monitor the suspect or ensure his health,” Withrow said.
The incident began when police officers responded to a disturbance call in the 1000 block of Southeast 44th Street.
The caller said a man was creating a disturbance and “brandishing a firearm,” Withrow said.
Withrow said Derrick Scott “took off running,” was chased down and taken to the ground by officers.
A loaded handgun was taken by an officer from Scott’s front pocket, Withrow noted.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office listed the manner of Scott’s death as “undetermined” but said he died as a result of a right pneumothorax (collapsed lung).
Physical restraint, recent methamphetamine use, asthma, bullous emphysema and atherosclerotic heart disease were listed as contributing factors.