Equality Indicators Special Meeting

Tulsa city councilors and panelists talk during the Tulsa City Council’s Equality Indicators special meeting at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Last week, the City Council held its second public forum to address the Equality Indicators reports.

One repeated theme of Wednesday’s session was the lack of trust between Tulsa’s black community and the police department charged with protecting it.

The reports say that Tulsa police officers are twice as likely to use force against a black person as a white person. The police department and Fraternal Order of Police dispute the figure’s relevance, pointing out that force is used against only a tiny portion of people of any race.

We repeat that portion of the discussion not to suggest that one side is wrong and the other right, but to illustrate the distance they stand from each other. They aren’t working from a shared set of facts.

It is said that the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. Tulsa has a problem: The police department and too many of the law-abiding people in the city’s black community don’t trust one another. As a result, the citizens don’t feel safe from crime or the police and the police don’t have necessary allies in dealing with crime.

The city’s strategy for addressing that problem is community-oriented policing: Immersing officers in the community they serve, building relationships and, ideally, trust. But recent events have shown that the strategy can succeed or make the problem worse, depending on how it is implemented.

The same is true of the public hearings on the Equality Indicators. If it is only an opportunity for the two sides to talk at one another, it advances the ball little. Indeed, it could do more harm than good. If, instead, it is the starting point for better listening, better sharing of common goals and better cooperation toward solutions to common problems, then there is a chance for progress.

Some members of the City Council resisted hearing from the public concerning the Equality Indicators reports, and the forum was eventually shunted into a special meeting.

We think the two meetings that have been held have proven the value of having the discussion. So long as everyone’s listening with an ear toward solutions.

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