Tulsa, what are we doing?

reddeadtulsa

At first I wanted to throw cans of food through some windows in the Pearl District, but vandalism doesn’t really hurt the wealthy. They have insurance and a police force and a support system to protect them.

Then I thought about offering rides from the Day Center to the corner of 6th and Peoria all day long. Set up a table in Central Park and give wine and cheese to anyone who hasn’t showered in a week. Post some “free campsite” signs all around the park and hope that some people come from beneath the overpasses to camp in that beautiful spot we all paid for. Sure, it would probably cause a stir, but the homeless aren’t props in some demonstration. They’re people. And we shouldn’t need to make a scene to point that out.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do besides sit back, shake my head and whisper to my friends about how fucked up Tulsa has become.

So why would I want to break windows out of rich peoples houses with cans of green beans and creamed corn?  Because apparently in the Pearl District serving the needy for decades doesn’t matter. Unless you have a certain opinion, showing up to clandestine city planning meetings and voicing that opinion also doesn’t matter. Even bringing millions of dollars of development into a neighborhood that is literally begging for it doesn’t matter, but that’s only if the development is going to feed poor people instead of vegetarians and those with a strong dislike for gluten. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just read up on the  Iron Gate Soup Kitchen vs the Proletariat District. It’s yet another example of leadership in Tulsa putting profit before people and then looking ahead for a chance to get to go it again.

You see, it wasn’t that long ago that a handful of business owners downtown trumped the concerns of every Tulsan I know living north of Admiral and basically said, “Yeah, our business, and street, and district is named after a rich white guy who liked to wear white robes and participate in race riots, but do you have any idea how many tens of hundreds of dollars it will cost me to change the name on my menu’s? My business cards? My storefront? I already spent all of this money on signs telling people not to feed the animals (read panhandlers), and now you want me to re-write the history books and my letterhead? Not gonna happen….and North Tulsa, go fuck yourself”.

It wasn’t that long ago that we shut down a vagrant tent city on riverside because white people started to realize that living next to an empty brown stream was enjoyable. Fast forward 15 years and that same rivers edge is getting a billion dollar face lift and it’s not for the displaced campers wherever they went.

It wasn’t that long ago that we shut down the mental health facility at the YMCA downtown and shipped a portion of those poor fools across town to what looks like a retirement village next to the highway. It’s 5 or 6 miles from literally every other support system these people had when they were downtown, but at least we get to let someone make a bunch of money redeveloping 5th and Denver! And don’t forget, we have an awesome public transit system for people who need it, so living so far away from everyone you know and everyone who cares about you isn’t really that inconvenient is it?

The thing that gets me the most about all of this is that we let it happen every single day like it doesn’t concern us. We aren’t homeless or completely broke but we could be tomorrow if we got sick… or hit by an uber driver going the wrong way on a one way street…or laid off from an oil company that just reported  five years of record profits and tax subsidies. We’re the lower-to-middle class in Oklahoma. We aren’t rich, but we vote and think like we are for some reason. We pay our teachers shit wages and cut funding for food stamps, while simultaneously subsidizing a professional basketball arena for a team owned by one of the richest men in Oklahoma. We’re looking out for the best interests of those who need absolutely nothing at the expense of our children and those who need absolutely everything.

People die on our streets from heat exhaustion and from hypothermia every year in this city. Humans, die, starving at night, on the same streets where we drink lattes and start art crawls. We build parks downtown and encourage kids to play in the fountains, and couples to lay on the benches. But we also build parks downtown and arrest homeless people who cool off in those fountains, and try to sleep on those benches. We watch as people just like us, struggling day to day, are treated like animals. The only thing separating most of us from these animals is a thousand dollars a month and a shitty job working for tips so the owner can live in a gated community out south. What is it going to take for everyone to realize that they’re closer to being poor or homeless than they are to ever accumulating enough money to have their views, their best interests, their lives even considered by the wealthy and those who tower above us in government?

I think we’re smarter than this. I know my generation is smarter than this and my city is better than this. It’s time to get it together Tulsa.

Is the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deliberately misleading citizens and the media?

clever little sign“An investigator retained by the Sheriff’s office found that Bates violated no departmental policies”  – Tulsa World

When a geriatric millionaire can’t tell the difference between the snub nosed .357 in his right hand, the “pepper ball” rifle in his left hand and the taser strapped to his chest, should he really be chasing down a suspect during a sting operation? What about when he buys de facto deputization complete with friendships all the way up the Tulsa County Sheriffs Office chain of command via fishing trips to Florida and the Bahamas? And what if he throws in some vehicles and weapons just to sweeten the deal? Is this really part of departmental policy? Seriously?

While we’re on the subject of policy, is it policy to release an extremely calculated press statement the day of the shooting that served little more purpose than to merely attack the character of the deceased by calling him a “convicted felon on PCP” who fled from law enforcement while “reaching for his waistband” causing deputies to “fear for the their safety”? Is it also policy to quietly redact those statements days later, just before you release an edited video clip that arguably contradicts those very statements? If these are indeed departmental policies, it seems Tulsans may have more to fear than an old man with a crackerjack sheriffs badge and his own arsenal of weapons.  The Sheriffs Department on the other hand may also have a little more to fear than just the current public relations debacle if it comes to light that they deliberately mislead each one of us from the start.

When 73 year old Robert Bates accidently shot Eric Harris in the back on April 2nd, the wheels of mitigation began to spin almost immediately. If you watch the video it seems that Bates was truly startled by the realization of what he had just done. He yelled repeatedly “I shot him, I’m sorry”. For that, accidently killing an unarmed man as a law enforcement official, he has been charged and will hopefully be held accountable for his negligence. But what about the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office as a whole? Have their actions up until this point really been on par with a law enforcement agency headed by an elected official and tasked with serving the public good?

Police departments around the country have become very adept at attempting to control public opinion. In the Michael Brown case last August the Ferguson Police Department had access to key evidence long before the media had access to it. Utilizing this dynamic to their favor, they had the ability to conduct calculated PR campaigns that were nothing short of propaganda. For Michael Brown it was “traces of marijuana in his bloodstream” and a video of him in baggy clothes assaulting a convenience store clerk. The Ferguson Police Department leaked this info to the media weeks before the possibly incriminating autopsy report was released and they did so against the wishes of the Department of Justice. The release of this particular video coincided with the release of officer Darren Wilson’s name publicly, allowing the department to easily shift attention away from Wilson and onto Brown, a failing tactic that ultimately lead to another night of rioting after nearly 50 hours of peaceful protest (the longest such stint during that first violent week). They attempted to control the flow of information and thus the media and in turn public opinion. In Eric Harris’ case the propaganda released by the TCSO has been just as egregious.

On April 2nd, mere hours after the shooting, TCSO released their first official statement to the media. In it they deploy talking points that are notoriously used to justify an officer’s use of lethal force. In this case it was the phrases “reaching for his waistband” and “deputies feared for their safety”. But why? Both videos clearly show this was not the case and by their own admission, the shooting was an accident. Why embellish the facts in such a potentially contentious scenario?

Put simply, it is clear that this was nothing more than their PR machine attempting to mitigate any potential public outcry. Pressured by the family and media to release a statement the day of the incident they hastily threw together a series of events that would most likely protect the reputations of the deputies involved. Apparently this was an action they would come to regret. Shortly before the release of edited video footage depicting the sting operation gone awry the TCSO redacted their original press statement removing the character assassination attempts on Harris and the common justification of lethal force phrases. Not only did they remove these phrases from their official statement, they did so without acknowledging the fact that there had been a redaction in the first place, leaving the edited document dated April 2nd.

This is a disturbing trail of events that can be easily tracked first on this Tulsa World Article from April 4th where the original statement has been archived and now on the TCSO press release page where a much shorter, but similar statement is made. Two different narratives of the same event, and no explanation as to why. This in itself should be troublesome for the department in the long run, but you can’t get the full story of how this whole debacle unfolded until you read the official “Narrative of Incident” report penned by Bates himself.

In official documents obtained by Project Freethought, Robert Bates and presumably a team of attorneys and public relations representatives drew out yet another narrative account of that day. Citing emotional distress of the deputy as justification, this report was laid out 5 days after the shooting actually occurred. While this may be a valid delay, it also serves as a very convenient opportunity for officials to get all their “facts” straight and repair the mis-steps they took with their original press statement so that it coincides with the current video footage that has been released.

In the report Bates verifies that the weapon used to kill Harris was his personally owned, snub nosed, Smith and Wesson .357. This is important for two reasons. The first being that a snub nosed .357 looks and feels nothing like the taser he says he thought he was holding and the second being the fact that .357’s are notoriously one of the loudest handguns on the market. This calls into question the departments recent assertion that the other deputies involved hadn’t heard the gunshot. This is an apparent attempt to justify the appalling and inhumane actions of the deputies the Wall Street Journal have now identified as Joseph Byars and Michael Huckeby, one of whom is seen in the video driving a knee into Harris’ head while yelling “Fuck your breath” as the man lay on the pavement pleading for his life. This also calls into question why a man who was accidently shot was not given immediate medical attention by the deputies on scene.

Here, civil rights attorneys representing the Harris family display the revolver used (left) the taser (right) and the unrelated weapon TCSO had used earlier as a prop for the actual weapon.

Here, civil rights attorneys representing the Harris family display the type of revolver used (left) the taser (right) and an unrelated weapon similar to one TCSO had earlier attempted to pass as a prop for the actual revolver used in the killing of Eric Harris.

Also in the report Bates suspiciously uses phrases found in the original press statement (pre-redaction) and does so word for word as if he were reading from a script. By his account the day starts in a task force meeting where he is advised that Harris was a “convicted felon” that was a “bad son of a bitch” with “gang affiliations” and should be considered “armed and dangerous”. Although these phrases weren’t all in the initial press release, they serve the same purpose of giving the deputy some leeway as far as justification of lethal force goes. Again, why is this necessary if he’s already admitted that the shooting was an accident? At the time the shot was fired the deputy by definition did not fear for his or the other officers safety to a degree where lethal force was warranted.

From there Bates explains the events leading up to the shooting with some familiar phrases. “At the time I noticed that Harris was running in an unusual way because as he ran he repeatedly touched his right hand to his waistband area on his right side….I believed that Harris might be carrying a gun, which would be consistent with what deputy Ramsey said in the briefing”.

Here again we have a deliberate statement being used for justification of lethal force, by a deputy who has claimed that he accidently shot the suspect in the back. Presumably justification of force is irrelevant in an accidental shooting, but it seems he had to put it in his report anyway because he does so multiple times. It’s reasonable to assume that he had to put this in his report because the Sheriff’s office had already stated it as fact five days prior. Despite the contradictory video evidence and their apparent attempt to hide those discrepancies by redacting their original statement just before they released the videos, the language of justification of force is now something they are wed to.

By re-incorporating this statement and releasing an edited version of events on video, they are assuming this claim will hold water later down the road or at the very least prevent further public outrage until that point. When watching the video footage currently available it is clear that Harris is running in a normal fashion, i.e. not grasping for an imaginary gun in his waistband, which would make these statements dubious at best. As it sits they retain plausible deniability because we cannot know for sure what happened in the 3-5 seconds between when Harris lept from the undercover agents vehicle and when he comes into frame in the second video where we see the chase and shooting occur. What is clear is that Harris is not running like he has gun in his gym shorts and doesn’t “repeatedly touch his right hand to his waistband” as Bates states. If the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office wants the public to believe Bates’ full account then they need to release all pertinent videos, fully and unedited, as requested by multiple media outlets.

As of today they have refused to release unedited and/or additional videos stipulating (as they have before) that the Oklahoma Open Records Act does not apply to an ongoing investigation. This falls directly in line with the lack of transparency we’ve already seen by the Tulsa County Sheriffs Office and only lends credence to the mounting evidence suggesting a targeted media and PR campaign that was ineptly put into place on day one. If they are allowed to continue in this fashion they will no doubt watch from a distance as protests lose momentum, public forums stop and the media moves on to the next news cycle as if nothing had ever happened.

 

*Shortly after publishing this article the Tulsa World broke a story alleging that some of deputy Robert Bates’ training certifications had been falsified after the shooting and higher ranking officers who refused to falsify these documents were re-assigned because of this insubordination. You can find more on this developing story here.

Unrest in Ferguson: a photolog

I spent the week surrounding the indictment decision of Darren Wilson on the streets of Ferguson and South St. Louis following protesters as they moved across the city. This photolog spans a 15 hour period starting on the afternoon of  Monday, November 24th and extends well into the following morning. I currently have an article in the December 15th print issue of This Land titled “Letter from Ferguson” that looks at this night in detail, from peaceful protest to police escalation and eventual riots, I found myself in the middle of some of the most contentious actions between police and protesters in various neighborhoods around St. Louis. These pictures are meant to add some depth to this article by showing the people, the neighborhoods and the protests as I saw them that night.

– derek dyson

Mail boxes within a two block radius of the courthouse in Clayton, MO were sealed to prevent the threat of explosive devices being left inside.

Mail boxes within a two block radius of the courthouse in Clayton, MO were sealed to prevent the threat of explosive devices being left inside.

Protestors await the grand jury decision in front of the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road.

Protestors await the grand jury decision in front of the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road.

Police line up in full riot gear in front of the Ferguson Police Department

Police line up in full riot gear in front of the Ferguson Police Department

"Anonymous" present on the S. Florissant. This loosely knit group of internet activists have been influential in social movements all over the world. They garnered major media attention when the released pictures, names and addresses of local KKK members who had made death threats against Ferguson protesters.

“Anonymous” present on the S. Florissant. This loosely knit group of internet activists have been influential in social movements all over the world. They garnered major media attention when the released pictures, names and addresses of local KKK members who had made death threats against Ferguson protesters.

As the prosecutor began to hand down the indictment decision in Clayton, MO those of us in Ferguson huddled around cars and cell phones to listen.

As the prosecutor began to hand down the indictment decision in Clayton, MO those of us in Ferguson huddled around cars and cell phones to listen.

Protesters wait for the grand jury decision in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

Protesters wait for the grand jury decision in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

A police line forms at the south end of Florissant nearly an hour after the grand jury decision is handed down. Behind them sets two armored vehicles with spot lights shining on protesters. This was the first action by law enforcement that stirred protesters who felt they were being "flanked" or "boxed in".

A police line forms at the south end of Florissant nearly an hour after the grand jury decision is handed down. Behind them sets two armored vehicles with spot lights shining on protesters. This was the first action by law enforcement that stirred protesters who felt they were being “flanked” or “boxed in”.

fpf10

Same police line, different angle.

More than an hour after the decision was handed down militarized police units tried flanking protesters on the south end of Florissant. This lead to a surge of people meeting that line in defiance, pushing the police line back slightly. This left a lone cruiser in the midst of us. A handful of young men tried to flip the car, leading to the tear gassing of protesters and subsequent destruction of property shortly after.

This new police line lead to a surge of protesters meeting that line in defiance, pushing the back slightly and leaving a lone cruiser in the midst of those of us on the civilian side of the police line. A handful of young men tried to flip the car, leading to the tear gassing of protesters and subsequent destruction of property shortly after.

Seconds after the first rounds of tear gas and flash bangs were deployed into the crowd.

Seconds after the first rounds of tear gas and flash bangs were deployed into the crowd.

After fleeing north from the first round of tear gas a few incited protesters began breaking windows, looting stores and setting fires.

After fleeing north from the first round of tear gas a few incited protesters began breaking windows, looting stores and setting fires.

The police cruiser that was almost flipped by protesters would later be set on fire when the riot police line advanced on protesters leaving it again unattended and vulnerable to vandalism.

The police cruiser that was almost flipped by protesters would later be set on fire when the riot police line advanced on protesters leaving it again unattended and vulnerable to vandalism.

A young women stands in front of a burning police car in the "hands up" pose reminiscent of the last seconds of Michael Browns life as described by eye-witnesses.

A young women stands in front of a burning police car in the “hands up” pose reminiscent of the last seconds of Michael Browns life as described by eye-witnesses.

Riot police stand guard as their partners detain a young white male suspected of setting two police cruisers on fire minutes before.

Riot police stand guard as their partners detain a young white male suspected of setting two police cruisers on fire minutes before.

Shaw protests on Grand in south St. Louis shortly after 11pm. Relatively peaceful at this point with very little police presence. 15 minutes after this photo was taken, myself and some 200 Shaw protesters were tear gassed by armored vehicles after a plain uniformed officer was assaulted.

Shaw protests on Grand in south St. Louis shortly after 11pm. Relatively peaceful at this point with very little police presence. 15 minutes after this photo was taken, myself and some 200 Shaw protesters were tear gassed by armored vehicles after a plain uniformed officer was assaulted.

The officer in the yellow jacket will eventually be walled off from his partners by protesters. He was pushed twice before armored vehicles deployed tear gas into the crowd.

The officer in the yellow jacket will eventually be walled off from his partners by protesters. He was pushed twice before armored vehicles deployed tear gas into the crowd.

Shaw protesters flee into surrounding neighborhoods in an attempt to escape the gas. As we ran the armored vehicles deployed gas and flash bangs into the residential areas we had ran to for refuge. Homeowners on the street I ended up brought out bottled water and towels to aid people gagging in the street.

Shaw protesters flee into surrounding neighborhoods in an attempt to escape the gas. As we ran the armored vehicles deployed gas and flash bangs into the residential areas we had ran to for refuge. Homeowners on the street I ended up brought out bottled water and towels to aid people gagging in the street.