Living (and dying) on Tulsa time

 

800px-tulsaraceriot-1921

The Black  section of Tulsa burning during the race riot  of 1921.

 

Maybe Colin Kaepernick is right. Maybe it’s finally time to admit that there are so many racist cops killing black men, it can’t be ignored anymore.

I grew up in Tulsa. I was saddened by but not surprised when a Tulsa police officer shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Terance Crutcher. Tulsa police say they are investigating, but it’s apparent from the chilling video of Crutcher being shot while he held his hands in the air that it was yet another senseless murder of a Black man by a cop who will probably get away with  it.

Like many big cities, Tulsa is a dangerous place to live if you’re Black. Tulsa, and Oklahoma in general, have a dark history of racial killing, from KKK lynchings to the 1921 Tulsas race riot, when thousands of whites stormed into the Black section of Tulsa, killed 300 people and burned the black neighborhood to the ground. It was a massive attack on the Black  population, including aerial assault from airplanes dropping incendiary devices on roofs. Many of the victims were buried  in a mass grave. It was hushed up, swept under the rug, and mostly forgotten.

Growing up in a white Tulsa neighborhood in the 1960s, I had no idea it had even happened. I had no idea that being Black in Tulsa was life threatening. But then, I don’t remember any Black students at my high school. I do remember one afternoon when a Black man knocked on our door and my mother took me into the  bathroom where we hid until he went away.

I didn’t  know just how bad it really was until the early 1980s when I went to work as a writer at the Muskogee paper. Reporters who had been covering the cops for years whispered about the cops targeting and killing young Black men on the street routinely. They knew how to get away with it. If people at the newspaper knew about it, why didn’t they try to expose it?

It was a different time in the 1980s. Things were really corrupt. The editor of the newspaper and the police chief were buddies. The chief supplied our office parties with confiscated liquor. Part of the narrative that went around was that the cops carried an extra gun, a “drop gun” to plant on the dead victim. The fix was in solid. Blacks were hunted in some towns for sport by the cops. Being on the street a night was all it took to get you killed.

It was many years later before I understood how much this must have upset me. When I started writing short stories, one of  the first I  wrote was about racist cops running wild and killing Black men on the street. I was using writing as therapy, to try to get it out of my head.

But it seems it just won’t go away. This  latest killing in Tulsa is just the most recent in a never ending string of killings, and it won’t be the last, not by a long shot (pardon the pun). If you don’t understand why Black people in America are in the street with signs, why pro athletes are kneeling during the national  anthem, and why cops are more trigger happy than ever, it’s time to wake up and smell the bigotry and injustice.

No, not all cops are bad. But the good cops still cover for the bad ones, the ones that are committing  cold blooded murder. Is it going to take another big deadly race riot, like  the one in Tulsa in 1921 before we wise up?

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