Talking time is over. It’s time to act.
Panelists discussing the Human Rights Watch investigation — “Policing, Poverty and Racial Inequality in Tulsa, Oklahoma” — touched on that idea Thursday night in north Tulsa.
The 222-page Human Rights Watch report cites evidence of racial bias in policing outcomes but no proof of “pervasive racism” in the Tulsa Police Department. Researchers documented many instances in which they say people were subject to apparent “arbitrary, abusive or disproportionate” force by officers.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, one of six panelists, said she had been eagerly waiting “a real long time” for the report on the study, which began in October 2016.
“We live in a city currently that wants to question every thing, every statistic, every study that’s produced, and if they can’t find holes in the data or information, they try to find holes in the individual,” Hall-Harper said.
In a Tulsa World article published Thursday, Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Brooks called it “misguided” to say racial disparities are evidence of bias or profiling without knowing the entire story. Brooks said police must acknowledge and address community concerns by “drilling down” deeper into data to find root causes of disparities.
Human Rights Watch — a nonprofit organization that investigates abuses across the globe — says the racial disparities are partly explained by “concentrated policing” in poverty-stricken areas, which often are communities of color and more frequently have calls for service.
The report faults the Police Department for finding that only two of 3,364 nondeadly forceful acts in six years weren’t within policy and for not disciplining the officer in either of those two cases.
Officer Betty Shelby’s fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher three years ago served as the catalyst for the investigation.
Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, told about 50 people gathered at the 36th Street North Event Center on Thursday night that if Tulsa keeps sweeping dirt under the rug, then it’s going to trip over it.
Crutcher pointed to several developments — the Tulsa Equality Indicators reports and the “historical” special City Council meetings on them; the many nonprofits and advocacy groups investing time in Tulsa; and “so much” opposition to the movement for equity in Tulsa.
“And what that simply tells me is that we need police reform now,” Crutcher said. “We don’t need another task force. We don’t need another meeting. And we don’t need another photo op.
“We need police reform, and we need it now.”
John Raphling, the Human Rights Watch report’s lead investigator and author, said he hopes the community will work together to use the document as a useful tool to achieve meaningful change.
He laid out some of its key recommendations for Tulsa:
• Form an independent oversight body with the power to investigate police actions, access to all documents and records, and authority to discipline officers.
• Implement mechanisms to limit the arrests of people who simply can’t pay court debts, and find ways to lower and reduce court debt.
• Have mental health experts respond as often as possible to mental health-related calls.
• Ask city, state and federal governments to prioritize empowering communities through education, social services, health care and housing rather than addressing poverty with more policing.
“Our great hope at Human Rights Watch is that this report will be a useful tool for all to use to work together to achieve meaningful change, so that what happened to Terence Crutcher — and others that I named or didn’t name — what happened to them will never happen again.”