The hazard of driving while black or brown in Tulsa is real. Anyone who denies this is most likely white.
Tulsans continue to grapple with issues of racism, and especially racially biased policing. The ongoing efforts to confront and eliminate racially biased policing in Tulsa are often impeded by the inability of our elected officials to understand police behavior.
For instance, this behavior recurrently manifests itself during traffic stops involving black Tulsans. These encounters routinely unnecessarily engage multiple police officers and extend well beyond the length of time most white Tulsans experience. When moved to demonstrate that police officers are accountable, our elected and police leadership remain focused on the actions of individual officers who have violated moral and legal standards. This concentration on incident-driven transgressions falls dangerously short as an approach to eliminate racially biased police practices.
To move our police officers out of a policing culture that denies, in the face of its own data, that racially biased policing practices permeate their behavior, elected and police leadership must recognize it is real and move immediately to policing in full accord with democratic principles.
This move is not complicated. A principled response to racially biased policing must be based on developing the Tulsa Police Department into a fully engaged community policing organization.
Racially biased policing occurs when police officers inappropriately consider race or ethnicity in deciding their course of intervention in an enforcement capacity. This behavior is clearly forbidden by the Tulsa Police Department’s Bias-based Policing Policy. The problem is not the lack of policy but the lack of consistent accountability to the policy. When there is erratic accountability the result is racially biased policing by consensus throughout the police department.
Undoing this consensus and instituting accountability is achieved through strong department leadership supported by active line supervision, advanced training and intense community engagement. Recognizing that police officers are empowered, necessarily so, with broad discretion requires a community to be vigilant to ensure their discretion does not become abusive during citizen contacts.
When encountering the police as a pedestrian or driving a vehicle what should you expect? At the minimum you should expect the officer to:
• Be courteous and professional.
• Introduce himself or herself to you (providing name and agency affiliation) and state the reason for the stop as soon as practical, unless providing this information will compromise the officer or public safety. In vehicle stops, the officer should provide this information before asking the driver for his or her license and registration.
• Ensure that the detention is no longer than necessary to take appropriate action for the known or suspected offense, and that you understand the purpose of reasonable delays.
• Answer any questions you may have, including explaining options for traffic citation disposition, if relevant.
• Provide his or her name and badge number when requested, in writing or on a business card.
• Apologize and explain if he or she determines that the reasonable suspicion was unfounded (e.g., after an investigatory stop).
The injury to Tulsans of color from racially biased policing practices is actual and ongoing. Overcoming prejudice, arbitrary decisions, treatment disparity and disrespect can only be achieved by a process of bringing the police into full accord with their sworn oath to respect the dignity and rights of every individual and to exercise wisdom and fairness in dealing with all people.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center
Drew Diamond, former chief of the Tulsa Police Department, is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.