Police video released from Town Square Apartments

A Tulsa police video screen shot shows an encounter between Tiffany Crutcher (left), Kristi Williams and Nat Wachowski-Estes and officers at the Town Square Apartments on June 9. Reports of the events of that night differ widely in detail and substance.

A July 9 encounter between Tulsa police officers and people at the Towne Square Apartments illustrates how perceptions of Tulsa’s history, leadership and police effect everyone’s understanding of what they see and hear ... and how far race relations have to go in our city.

Activists who were canvassing the apartment complex say TPD swarmed in the apartment complex, harassed a young man in a car and treated the activists in a condescending fashion.

“TPD officers in unmarked cars drove up in full force, jumped out of their vehicles and began to harass young residents who were simply sitting in a parked car,” a group called Demanding a JUSTulsa writes in a description of events. “This TPD unit ... engages in this type of behavior so routinely that Towne Square residents call TPD’s weekly visits ‘Task Force Tuesdays.’ Residents feel ‘terrorized’ by task force officers.”

By contrast, Mayor G.T. Bynum — who was coincidentally riding along with some of the officers involved that evening — said he saw no inappropriate behavior by the officers. Towne Square was one of several apartment complexes the gang task force visited that night, and, for the most part, they interacted convivially with residents and effectively built strong relationships, he said.

The tone of the evening changed when officers noticed a young man in a car with its vehicle identification number hidden, but the mayor said he didn’t see anyone treat the man inappropriately. No one was arrested or cited. Bynum also said he didn’t see all of the officers interactions with Demanding a JUSTulsa members.

For the most part, the evening was a good example of what community-oriented policing should look like, Bynum said.

The mayor and the activists saw the same events, but because they come from very different backgrounds with very different assumptions about police and justice, and different understandings of Tulsa’s past and present, they were essentially seeing different things.

An objective look for a beyond-a-reasonable doubt answer to what happened at Towne Square from the officer’s videotape monitors is incomplete and frustrating. Much of the evening’s events weren’t recorded, other moments have no audio. Both sides watch the video and find confirmation for their point of view.

While the contrast is stark, it’s not unique to Tulsa. The critical question is: Must we continue to live in separate worlds, or can the two sides — perhaps as a result of what happened that night at Towne Square apartments — join in a meaningful dialogue that starts to bridge the divide between the two realities?

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