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.

generation-Y: finding a voice

By: Derek Dyson

It’s no surprise that 20 to 30 somethings in America are beginning to get fed up with the political climate at hand.  For nearly their entire lives politicians and special interest groups alike have all but ignored their existence on just about every level. In fact, the only thing society has seemed to focus on when considering the importance of “Generation Y” (or the Millennials as they are also called) is their pocketbooks. Seen mostly as hedonistic and highly apathetic “consumers”, who’s idea of planning for the future was at best a bachelors degree in whatever Arts or Humanities field happened to catch their attention freshman year; this generation as a whole has struggled to emerge from behind the harsh stereotypes that it willfully inflicted upon itself.

Much of this struggle is placed on the shoulders of tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed college graduates. Each with mounds of student loans they will never be able to pay off, no health insurance and a job that, if they’re lucky, pays enough for them to “get by”.  This job is probably the one they secured to help pay their way through college in the first place, sticking them with relatively little real-world experience outside of that field. This wouldn’t have been the case had they chose to participate in any number of internships while in college, but lets face it, who can afford to work for free when you’ve got to worry about paying rent and keeping the electricity turned on?

In many ways this is our own fault.  We should have known what we were getting into beforehand. As 18 year old kids we should have had the foresight to better plan for our own future.  We should have noticed that many of our parents didn’t go to college simply because they couldn’t afford it. We should have realized that if we didn’t want to struggle throughout our twenties and probably well into our thirties, we would need to start our “careers” straight out of high-school, just as our parents had.  We should have realized this and taken the safe road. But we didn’t.

For some reason we thought attending college was important. Maybe it was because every teacher and authority figure we had ever come across reiterated this fact seamlessly and without hesitation. Maybe it was the plethora of after school specials and post He-Man “morals of the story” that told us that we really didn’t have a choice.  Either way, we all knew that if we wanted to make anything of our lives, college was the most important step.

For some reason we also refused to work jobs that we genuinely hated and spent much more time focusing on ourselves, than we spent worrying about the world around us.  This realization would be un-excusable if not for the fact that we did so in our youth. We did so un-apologetically and for the most part un-intentially, but did so as kids. This is important because that focus on self (which includes a strong connection with our direct peers) largely shaped the culture of our generation. We care deeply about our own happiness, but realize that much of that is dependent on the happiness of those around us. It made us who we are collectively and I think paved the way for the voice that our generation would eventually develop.

You don’t have to look far to realize the political climate is changing within our generation.  The Occupy movement that swept the nation almost exactly three months ago is a perfect example.  Starting initially on message boards and in closed chat rooms, the idea of speaking out against government corruption and the flow of money into and out of the political process, unexpectedly united millions of American youth in a common cause. A cause that eventually lead them to the streets in protest in over 100 cities across the nation, for weeks on end.

For the first time in my life kids all across America were standing together crying foul. Finally calling out the very leaders and institutions that had previously ignored them for over two decades.

Although it is unclear what the Occupy movement has accomplished politically at this point, one thing that cannot be denied is the passion and the ingenuity it’s participants have shown. An entire generation of kids raised on the internet with unparalleled social networking expertise, graphic design skills and an untapped potential for activism (not to mention plenty of time on their hands to utilize it). These kids can mobilize in an instant and can do so with unsurpassed charisma.

Another example of youth activism was in the news a few days ago. SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) was being voted on in Congress. The bill is highly backed by corporations who feel that their bottom lines are being effected by sites like mega-upload and others.  The bill would essentially give corporations and government agencies the unchecked power to censor what is on the internet by shutting down any sites that they feel are infringing on copyrighted material.  It faced strong criticism from experts representing companies like google and facebook who say that it could essentially kill the internet as we know it.

This sparked an internet campaign from thousands of concerned youth across the globe, causing a standstill in congress and successfully postponing the vote on the bill.  Although the battle is not completely won, there is one thing that can’t be denied.  A few thousand kids, armed only with the internet, literally halted legislature in congress in just a matter of days.

This is encouraging news if like me, you’ve been anticipating a collective voice to emerge among our generation. After-all, we have plenty of common causes to get behind. We have student loans owned by banks that received billions of dollars in bail-outs, yet congress fought tooth-and-nail to stop a loan consolidation program that would lower our interest rates. We have the highest unemployment rates of any age group and the highest number of uninsured.  We care deeply about issues like the environment, yet don’t care at all if our homosexual friends want to get married. We want science and technology to again be a mainstay of American education, but we also want our children to be able to enter those fields without going into debt for the rest of their lives at the same time.  Most of all, we want elected officials to represent our views and to do so without having to be paid off in the process.

So, what are we doing to make these things known?

On the National level you have candidates like Ron Paul, who’s base is primarily college aged kids who are fed up with bipartisan bickering and idolize his no-nonsense approach to politics. You also have a slew of disenfranchised youth who backed the Obama campaign in ’08 and are dis-satisfied with his actions thus far, many of whom have made that point well known.  All of this with a Presidential election less than a year away and at a time when the public knows that American youth are willing and able to take to the streets in support of their cause.

But aren’t there more pressing issues, issues that are closer to home that we should be focusing on as well?

At the state level (in Oklahoma) we have a highly conservative congress that has put things like the “Sharia-Law bill”, “health-care opt-out bill”, “voter registration bill”, multiple anti-abortion bills and countless other frivolous and inappropriate pieces of legislation at the very top of their agenda. They do so with complete disregard to the legality or the over-all effectiveness of these bills, simply because they can. Simply because no-one has the power or political will to stop them.

On the local level (in Tulsa) we have a City Council and Mayor who can’t seem to collaborate on anything.  We have a highly progressive downtown culture that can’t get funding for bike lanes or mass transit, but can somehow give tax incentives and “vision 2025” handouts numbering in the millions, to property owners who continue to sit on some of the largest and most economically viable buildings in the city. Many of which have surprisingly been “under construction” for close to a decade. We have business owners in positions of political power that need to be checked and rechecked daily to ensure the best is being done for those who actually live in the neighborhoods these people were elected to represent. Each of these things very important and right under our noses.

I touch on them only to show that most of us, most of the 20 to 30 somethings in this city, probably don’t agree with the way our elected officials are representing us on many levels.  Up until now they have had no reason to listen to us, essentially because none of us were talking. But that has to change.  It’s time to start talking.

Last week I wrote about Senator Inhofe as did many others across the state. He currently holds the First Congressional Districts Federal Senate seat and will be up for re-election in 2014.  He may or may not choose to run (he’ll be 79), but either way that election will be an opportunity that we cannot pass up.

As a U.S. Senator he holds one of the most powerful positions in our government. That means replacing him with someone who is willing to listen to the voice of American youth could be a great opportunity for our generation to make a difference on a national level.

It just so happens that we have a couple of young representatives in our State-House that may be perfect for the job.

Eric Proctor, a Democrat from Oklahoma’s 77th House district is one of the youngest State Representatives to ever be elected. He was actually a high-school class-mate of mine and is an all around great person. He’s always been active in the community and was a history teacher before getting elected. Although I stand behind most of his policies, he may be a bit too young for a Federal Senate seat.

Seneca Scott may be a much more viable candidate for us to consider. He is also a young Democratic State Representative from Tulsa, who has been representing the 72nd district since 2008. He’s a graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in History and a background in Native American Studies. If you’ve ever met him, you know he is an articulate speaker and genuinely nice guy. More importantly, he is a young progressive who loves Tulsa as much as we do. I think with the right support he could be exactly what we need at the Federal level.

I understand that the U.S. Senate may be a lofty goal, but we have 3 years to work on it. In the meantime we have a Presidential election, City Council meetings, School Board elections and any number of other civic duties available to hone our skills and develop our voice.

These issues may seem complicated and my views a bit too idealistic, but in the end my reason for writing this is simple.

The political process in this country has become diluted with lobby groups and partisan politics on a level that has made it almost completely ineffective.  Those who have retained power for the majority of our lifetime have done so with complete disregard to the issues that directly affect our generation as a whole. Education, health-care, inner city infrastructure and poverty, all have taken a back seat to various wars.  Wars on drugs and on countries. Wars between insurance lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies. Various wars that are paid for and fought by kids like you and I, yet are not in any of our best interests. It is time that we recognize this simple fact and take steps to prove that our generation has the numbers, the education and the leverage needed to become a viable political force. To prove that our generation has a collective voice…and that we are willing to use it.