Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confedederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 17: the Tulsa murder and racial terror

Even if it's largely a matter of more sophisticated PR, I've been struck by the contrast between the official handling of the Trayvon Martin case and the Tulsa serial-killing case from a couple of weeks ago. From this Tulsa World article, I take it that the Tulsa PD is going all-out to convey to the public that they were all over the case from the get-go: Jerry Wofford, Tension ruled Tulsa for two days 04/15/2012.

Now, parts of this article read like a police department PR release written by somebody trying to make it sound like the plot from a TV police "procedural". And I'm guessing that Tulsa cops and politicians were telling each other early on, "we can't let this become another Trayvon Martin deal."

It strikes me that if the Sanford FL police had been more diligent in their intial investigation with interviewing witnesses and so on, and had more clearly publicized what they had done (confiscating Zimmerman's clothes, taking him into custody for five hours, etc.), they might have at least mitigated the negative image they got from the case.

Just to be clear, based on the publicly available information I've seen in following the Martin case, it looks to me like this was a racially-motivated murder, at the very best a case where George Zimmerman provoked a confrontation with no good reason in which he wound up killing Trayvon with a bullet to the chest. And it certainly looks to me like the Sanford police department handled the initial investigation with considerable sloppiness. We can certainly hope that the legal proceedings will produce definitive information. Though the initial probable cause affidavit has given Emptywheel contributor Bmaz pause as to the competency of the prosecution in this case, as he explains in Zimmerman: Anatomy Of A Deficient Probable Cause Affidavit 04/14/2012.

What I want to focus on in this post is the description that Wofford gives of the effects in the African-American neighborhood of Tulsa where the murders to which Jake England and Alvin Watts have confessed were taking place. It's give a very contemporary image of how racial vigilante violence spreads a feeling of vulnerability and terror beyond the immediate victims and their families.

But there were immediate victims:

Police learned later they likely were. Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31, were dead. David Hall, 46, and Deon Tucker, 44, were in critical condition with gunshot wounds. All had been shot within a three-mile radius in the span of a few hours early April 6, Good Friday.

Here is Wofford's description of the atmosphere it created:

A white man shooting black victims seemingly at random in north Tulsa.

"So it doesn't take rocket science to say that it's a possible connection that somebody was targeting black (people)," Evans said.

City Councilor Jack Henderson represents the district where all the victims were found. He also was kept informed as the situation progressed and knew there was a possibility that black residents in his district were being targeted.

"At this point, fear had set in, and everyone is asking me what they should do," Henderson said. "We needed to start making sure people don't start taking things in their own hands."

Warren Blakney, president of Tulsa's NAACP chapter and the minister of the North Peoria Church of Christ, was headed back from a revival in Texarkana when he heard about the shootings. He and Henderson started working with the north Tulsa community to balance the anger about the situation with a call for safety and awareness.

"I decided to get some folks together and said let's meet Friday night and inform this community they could be in danger," Blakney said. "I didn't want anybody else hurt."

Henderson said he was telling people to stay indoors and not put themselves in dangerous situations.

Theo Ballard hadn't heard those calls from community leaders but heard enough from a neighbor. He lives about a block from where Clark was shot near Denver Avenue and 63rd Street North.

"He said I better watch it, sitting on the porch," Ballard said. "I stayed inside and secured the door real good."

Ballard, 84, and his wife, Ann Ballard, 75, both stayed inside. They liked sitting on their porch in the evening, enjoying the twilight, the weather, their flower garden and their neighbors. But the threat of a random shooter kept them inside Friday night.

"I was beginning to suspect anybody," Ann Ballard said. "I wasn't ruling anything out. ... I'd just shoot anybody that came up here."

Police were anxious, too. Extra patrols roamed the streets across the city, not just on the north side.
Also from the Tulsa World on the case: Zack Stoycoff, Jake England was shaped by tragedy, responsibility, desperation 04/15/2012; Bill Sherman, Jesse Jackson comes to Tulsa with message of healing 04/14/2012

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