In the weeks after Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by a Tulsa police officer, rallies, forums and other events have filled local calendars as community members gather to discuss the shooting, race in Tulsa and how to bring about change.
The most effective way to do that, event organizers and speakers say, is to acknowledge the issue and talk about it — and then act.
“I firmly believe in the importance of dialogue, but only as a means to a larger end. It can’t just be talking for talking’s sake,” said Mana Tahaie, YWCA’s interim director of immigrant and refugee services.
In the days immediately following Crutcher’s death, protests materialized outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, City Hall and Tulsa Jail. Hundreds gathered for events at Greenwood Cultural Center and the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, among other places.
Tahaie, who has led the YWCA’s racial justice initiatives since 2008, will be speaking at three separate, albeit related, events related to race in the coming week.
The first event discusses race in the workplace as part of the Return on Inclusion Summit, the second event focuses on creating public policy that helps marginalized groups, and the third is a panel discussion on crime and racial prejudice at a film screening.
Whatever the event may be, Tahaie said just the act of setting aside a time and space to mull over the tragedy can be useful.
“People need a place to put all of their emotions, a place to process through all things they’re thinking and feeling, somewhere to help make sense of things that feel senseless,” she said.
Although some have said so many events in the aftermath of Crutcher’s death suggested disorganization, Tulsa Talks forum coordinator DeVon Douglass said the plethora of gatherings demonstrated “unity of thought.”
Douglass, who has been living in Tulsa for several years, said the events are the first step to inciting change because they give people a space to mourn, discuss different ideas and form a plan to change things.
“Because that’s the whole goal is that Tulsa is a better place, that Oklahoma is a better place, that we’re forming a more perfect union,” Douglass said. “That’s what our founding fathers called us to do.”
Part of what makes these gatherings so important is that they bring together people from different communities, who have experienced issues of police brutality or systematic racism in different ways, and introduce them and their varying ideas to one another. “It’s important to have those different opinions, even if we disagree with each other, because you can’t have change in a stagnant place,” Douglass said.
Since Crutcher’s death, the Rev. Barbara Prose, from All Souls Church, said one of the questions she’s received from her congregation — particularly from white members — is how they can get involved.
These questions culminated in an event last week that taught attendees how to join a movement to end racism without dominating the conversation.
“So it’s not white people taking over. It’s white people really listening and learning what life is like for Tulsa residents of color and learning to collaborate,” Prose said.
The event included a panel of speakers including We the People leader Marq Lewis, University of Oklahoma professor Chad Johnson and leaders from other local churches.
Attendance at the community events since and before Crutcher’s death have convinced Douglass that though there’s still work to do in Tulsa, people care about what’s going on in the city and that some residents aren’t being treated equitably.
“Tulsa’s not going to be able to be the best city that it can possibly be if we keep sweeping racism that exists in our city under the rug,” Douglass said.
That response is indicative of a movement already underway in the city — and across the country, Douglass said.
She remembered a police shooting in 2006 that didn’t garner nearly the same response as the deaths of Michael Brown or Tulsans Eric Harris and Terence Crutcher.
“It’s clearly a movement, because we’re not responding at all in the way that we did in 2006,” she said. “It’s 10 years later, and the way we respond to police-involved shootings is completely different, and that’s encouraging.”