Mayor G.T. Bynum stepped into the middle of the city’s raging discussion of race, policing and perceptions on Wednesday when he disagreed with how speakers at a City Council meeting described police officers’ interactions with residents of Town Square Apartments earlier in the week.
Several speakers described to councilors how officers swarmed into the apartment complex in multiple unmarked vehicles, ordered people to show identification and searched an occupied vehicle for its identification number despite the fact that the people inside the car had done nothing wrong.
All of this, the speakers said, happened as children were out playing.
“Burned in my memory is a police officer looking into the hood of the car trying to read a VIN number because they are harassing teenagers about a parked car that they are sitting in where a young man is telling them, ‘This is my mom’s car. If you have these questions, call her,’” said Gregory Robinson II.
“I’m trying to figure out how on a Tuesday evening there are six police cars with Gang Unit vests on harassing teenagers in a parked car. … This is terrorism that I saw yesterday.”
Bynum, it turns out, saw something different. And he, too, was at the Town Square Apartments on Tuesday night, participating in a ride-along with the same violent gang gun task force whose actions Robinson spent three minutes decrying.
“I saw everything that happened, and it happened five feet away from me,” Bynum said. “And I had a very different take on what I saw than what I have heard about tonight.”
Bynum described seeing people waving to the officers and officers talking to a man they knew. Officers in the violent gang gun task force travel together in groups, he said, to ensure officers’ safety. By his account, Tulsa police had acted professionally at every call he accompanied them on in the apartment complex.
“I did not see terrorism last night. I did not see harassment of teenagers,” Bynum said. “I saw a very different dynamic occur once folks started showing up and telling people in that complex that this is racially biased policing.”
Bynum had begun his remarks by acknowledging that as mayor of the city he would have a different perspective of the incident than the children in the apartment complex. Nonetheless, his remarks prompted Robinson to approach the podium after the meeting, demanding to be heard again.
He was heard, for a time, before the conversation spilled into the hallway outside City Council chambers. There, the conversation continued, with Bynum and many frustrated Tulsans trying to reconcile how a group of African-Americans and a white mayor could see the incident so differently.
It was an ironic ending to a meeting at which councilors took public comments for next week’s second Equality Indicators special meeting. Robinson and others were there to speak on next week’s topic: racial disparities in police use of force and existing practices to improve outcomes.