The images are blurry. There is live video at the end. This is my account of the protest.
Last night, I attended a protest in downtown Tulsa after a county jury found Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby not guilty of manslaughter. Officer Shelby shot and killed an unarmed black man, Terrence Crutcher, on September 16, 2016.
I was there from 10:55 pm to 12:30 am.
I resolved to attend once seeing a video posted by The Frontier showing an emotional woman screaming into the crowd, “Where are you Tulsa? WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?… I HATE this city.”
What an important question to ask. “Where are you, Tulsa?”
Where was her community? It was the police who took Terrence. It was the justice system who made it acceptable. But it was her community that left her abandoned.
So, I showed up for her. For Terrence. For all the inequities I have the privilege of never experiencing. I was downtown 10 minutes later.
Coming upon the steps of the Mayo Hotel on the corner of Cheyenne Ave. and 5th street, I saw a small but loud crowd gathered in front of the main entrance.
It was hectic.
Protest chants were drowned out by cries of injustice, loud arguments, and other less peaceful calls. One man shouted, “Bring that murderous bitch out here,” and “Fuck your racist ass.”
I immediately searched for familiar faces: community leaders, attorneys, common activists of any sort and I found none. The only people I recognized were the local media as they assembled to document the protest.
Distressed was the mood and disorder was flooding the group of protesters.
Two female protesters grasped the attention of the crowd to affirm their actions. Then a man who was called “Pastor” went to the head of the crowd, I hoped, to bring order. But he too couldn’t contain the growing unrest.
I saw anger. I saw fear. But worst of all was the frustration. What does one do with so much strife? Where does one put it? There’s was no productive outlet for these people. The sense of helplessness was palpable.
Pastor reprimanded the group for not being productive. “Organize!” “Unite!” People shouted in response. Some contributed and some argued.
One man pleaded for guidance, “What can we do, Pastor? Tell us what we can do!” But he couldn’t or didn’t offer any direction, and the conversation devolved into a yelling match.
Some people questioned Pastor’s legitimacy claiming he was there on behalf of the Shelby defense to disperse the crowd. I caught up with him later during the protest and asked him for comment on the claim. He denied it, and said he had been there protesting since the beginning. A claim I heard him shout to dissenters many times over the night.
It was just before midnight now. More people had come, one and two at a time. Some to participate. Others to spectate. But the group, without purpose, was losing its steadfastness.
To unify the crowd, a young protester armed with a small bull horn took to marching.
“No justice! No Peace!” Heading up 5th St., the chant echoed off the buildings, and half of the nearly 100 protesters followed in unison. But the others stayed wandering about. Taking pictures. Updating statuses. The group had splintered.
The media was confused. The crowd, now separated, left them wondering who to follow. But the marchers returned reconvening with the group at the Mayo and they collectively decided to move the protest.
As most of the crowd moved toward the courthouse, a new voice found its way to the streets.
“Stop, look, and listen. That’s all you fucking gotta do.”
It should come to the shock of no one that these words were screamed by a middle aged white man. He repeated himself. His voice hoarse and rattled with adrenaline. His chant was quickly met with a “Fuck you!” And, “Go home, you redneck!”
I tried to discourage the man from creating unneeded confrontation, but two young black men quickly stepped up to engage the dissenter and I stepped aside. I headed down the street. (Video below)
At 5th and Denver the protest found new life.
Lined down the cross walk between the Tulsa County Courthouse and The Tulsa City Library the protesters blocked traffic on one of downtown Tulsa’s most used roads.
Traffic lights went red and green but no cars passed. N.W.A’s “Fuck the Police” was blasting across the intersection. And the crowd was growing.
When I arrived, a white SUV sped to confront the protesters and press its way through. Inching closer, horn blazing, the angry driver found his way through the line, but the protesters did not yield happily. (Video below)
Another car, a Jaguar driven by an older white woman honked her horn and verbally confronted protesters before getting through. Other cars turned away. Police cruisers set up a block south stopping further traffic and later north at 4th St.
It may have been late, and there weren’t many people on the road, but the protesters effectively shut down Denver Ave. at 5th St.
But what next? Escalation.
More police cruisers arrived at 6th and Denver. They whipped their cruisers around in unison creating a barrier at the intersection. Then a voice came over a loud speaker from the line of red and blue flashing lights.
Honestly, the whole message was difficult to hear because of the chanting, the echoes on the street, and the wind. But here is some of what I heard. Some of it is paraphrased.
“We respect your First Amendment right to protest… We are here to ensure no property is damaged… Please disperse or chemical agents will be used.”
At any one time I observed about 150 protesters in the crowd (not including media). I counted them. This wasn’t Baltimore. This wasn’t Ferguson. The protest didn’t engulf the arteries of the city. I witnessed no damage to property. It was collected at one intersection after midnight.
This threat came from a face they couldn’t see, a voice they could barely hear, from in front of the courthouse – the source of the night’s unrest.
The tension was at its peak. Members of the media were growing unsteady. And it was then I noticed a new leader had emerged among the protesters.
A young woman addressing the crowd with a bull horn spoke quickly and confidently.
“We are not going anywhere… This is our right… This is how we show them… This is how we fight… If we know our history, we can do better.”
This was the leader the group needed. The protesters, arms now locked, defied the police vigorously.
“HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.”
“GIVE US JUSTICE, MOTHERFUCKER!”
The police warnings repeated. The defiant chants continued.
But after some time, the warnings stopped. And some air seemed to be let out. Tempers were calming. Nerves were settling.
I overheard discussions. Plans. Where to meet. What to do from here. Media interviews resumed in the street and on the sidewalks.
A reporter for News on 6 spoke to his crew coincidentally right next to me. He reported the police would NOT forcibly disperse the crowd if they stayed at this intersection and kept peaceful.
The threat was hollow.
As word made its way around the group. The media, discouraged by the lack of conflict, began packing up. Except for a few stragglers.
I wandered around a bit speaking with a few of the protesters. The mood seemed overall unchanged. But there was a small sense of accomplishment.
Spending a few minutes on my phone, I overheard. “We’re going to Guthrie Green!”
The crowd, now drained of energy, pulled slowly from the streets and onto the sidewalks. Some people were heading to the cars, and some towards Guthrie Green. But the protest had deflated.
This was when I left. I got home at 1:00 am.
Even as I was live tweeting my experience, people responded calling the protesters thugs and fools and rioters. Claiming they were damaging property. People from behind the comfort of a computer screen lying about what was happening in Tulsa last night.
I witnessed no damage to property. No rioters, just angry but peaceful protesters without community leaders. And frankly, that’s what I find most troubling.
Additional photos and live video below.